Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Phish 12/30 Review: The One Where I Surrendered to the Flow

Just a few days ago, I still didn't have tickets for the 12/30 Phish show.  Thanks to CashOrTrade.org, I was able to trade two of my 12/29 extras for a pair of 30ths... behind the stage.  I was slightly worried that it'd be too frustrating a position to really enjoy the concert, but now it pains me to think of not being there for last night's second set.

Phish began the night with "Kill Devil Falls."  It's not my favorite song, and the sound was reverberating a tad off the back wall.  I was also experiencing a certain sort of disconnect.  I'm tall, so I typically don't have a lot of trouble seeing at concerts.  My eyes are usually on the musicians: their faces and their hands on their instruments.  And I couldn't really do that from my vantage point.  In fact, I could see Mike Gordon only when his left hand ventured close enough to the headstock to hit the lowest notes.  It did, however, offer me a better view of Jon Fishman, who is usually fairly hidden behind his cymbals.  Now over his shoulder, the complexity of what my ears were hearing didn't match the simplicity of what I was seeing.  A total sensorial trick that could only be pulled off by such a talented drummer.  "Bathtub Gin" was a fun follow-up, especially the "shave and a haircut" tag at the end.  Having been stuck in my head for the whole run, "Wombat" finally reared its funky head next.  Personal desire withstanding, it was the most inspired performance in a predominantly straightforward set.  The reggae of "Yarmouth Road" was a refreshing genre change before the rocking "46 Days," which got the floor quaking beneath my sneakers.  "Lawn Boy" saw Page visiting Mike on stage left (Weirdly, also my left.), and Fishman even came out from behind his kit to join them.

When Phish returned to the stage after that song-focused first set, Mike had a yellow scarf wrapped around his neck.  I was secretly hoping it was there to keep his head from floating away in the middle of a particularly spacey trip.  Anastasio revved up the rollicking "
Chalk Dust Torture," and an arsenal of cow-patterned balloons exploded from the center of the crowd.  Trey's guitar evolved into a humpback whale, searching for mates across a swirling sea.  Then Mike dropped "the brown noise," clearing the air for a short, gentle section prior to the final uptempo groove.  By this point, I had accepted my view of the stage.  I was listening to the music.  Surrendering to the flow.  "Mike's Song" developed into a funk rock piece that just begged to be made into a "Frankenstein" monster.  But they resisted, and a clunky transition into "Devotion to a Dream" kept the no-covers streak going.  I like the Wingsuit ditty, but as the newcomer, it was the obvious weakest link.  "Ghost" followed, and it was incredible to hear the arena fully singing along to a song, not just a single line or wooing in unison.  Once it reached the breakout, you could call this one Casper, because this was a friendly "Ghost."  The radiant jam took on more and more positive vibes until it couldn't contain them anymore, and ruptured into the fat bass intro of "Weekapaug Groove."  The song continued along the established sunny path until it too had to burst, this time into "Simple."  After the silly lyrical part, the band pushed forth, eventually taking the song inward.  The hive mind of these guys just astounds me; the way they rarely even look at each other (generally only for the endings of songs), but are so telepathically aligned, they can improvise a song that constantly evolves.  Bouncing along on Mike's trampoline bassline, Page and Trey twinkled on until the whole thing sounded like blissed out electronica.  Scraping some of the resin leftover from "Yarmouth," they dropped into "Harry Hood."  I think I preferred last year's version, but then again, last year I wasn't right in front of a girl screaming like Miss Piggy right before a karate chop.  Eventually it wound down to a feedback-y denouement, which most assumed would be the set's finish (My brother even left to go to the bathroom.), but Fishman crashed right into "Cavern."  "They faked me out!" yelled my brother once he returned for the singalong.  Then they faked everyone out again by descending into "First Tube" for a victory lap.  The guys took a bow, and Trey collected what appeared to be books and a framed photograph from the front row.

At that point, Page could've returned, played only the fart sound he finished last night's "Gumbo" with, and I would've been happy.  Instead they chose "Slave to the Traffic Light."  After such a euphoric second set, it seemed even more relaxed than usual.  It was the satisfied exhale, the cigarette after sex.  And it was my favorite Phish show.


Kill Devil Falls / Bathtub Gin / Wombat / Yarmouth Road / 46 Days / Lawn Boy / Heavy Things / Punch You in the Eye > Sample in a Jar / Gotta Jibboo

Chalk Dust Torture > Mike's Song > Devotion to a Dream / Ghost > Weekapaug Groove > Simple > Harry Hood > Cavern > First Tube

Slave to the Traffic Light

Monday, December 30, 2013

Phish 12/29 Review: Stepping Up Their Game

After a scattered first night, which found the band struggling to find setlist slots for their new Wingsuit tunes, Phish turned in a much more cohesive second show at the Garden.  "The Moma Dance" kicked things off, and the middle-aged woman next to me began the mommy dance.  Phish never got too funky with it, taking a laid-back approach that they extended well into the set.  "Roggae" had its moments, and the band found the perfect spot for possible radio single "The Line," tucked snugly between "Sparkle" and "Stash."  The latter served as the framework for the first true jam of the night, a major-key journey signaled by a CK5 projection behind the stage that resembled maybe snow, maybe not, as my brother swore it looked like "maggots and bacteria."  The Gordon-led "555" followed nicely.  Trey's guitar and Page's organ both got a little too shrill by the end of the improvised section, but the transition back into the vocal was on point.  Then they busted out the dankest funk since the previous night's "Wolfman" with "It's Ice."  Gordon made meatballs while McConnell poured on the clavinet sauce.  With the arena pre-heated, it was time for the cooks to serve up some steaming "Gumbo."  Page simmered on the organ for a bit, but he really brought things to a boil once he returned to the clav.  Sous-chef Gordon snuck in some well-timed notes, but he dropped back and let Page continue his ride, all the way to the final farty flourish: a single staccato note to end the song with a laugh.  Closer "Walls of the Cave" suffered from a little too much guitar grandiosity from Anastasio, but it wasn't a total misfire.

Set two began with a tiny bit of ambient experimentation.  Trey 
mumbled something incoherent into the mic, and then Gordon's flange bass triggered "Down with Disease."  The band oozed confidence on the lyric start to the song, and then it came time for the jam.  Last year's 12/30 "DWD" was my favorite performance of the entire year from any band, so my hopes were probably too high.  Though it was never dull, it jumped around a little too much, Trey steering it from a gentle guitar melody to crunchy riff rock to an uptempo blues.  Emerging on the other side, Anastasio finished out the chorus center stage, and then charged into "Carini."  Unlike the sinister cave creature they uncovered last year, this version let in more light, sonically represented by simultaneous death ray whooshes by all members.  The spaceflight continued, and then Page let loose some keyboard noises that sounded like the sweetest dial-up modem.  It was enough to cement his status as the night's MVP.  "Waves" flowed into a "Twist" that at times recalled Bill Withers' "Use Me."  They closed out the set with well-executed, well-lit renditions of "Golgi Apparatus" and "David Bowie."  As they came forward to take a bow, someone in the crowd threw a bouquet of roses at Trey.  He tossed the flowers to Fish, who held them for a photo op before flinging them over the drums to Mike.  Sadly, Mike's cross-stage pass to Page went wild, and landed on top of the piano.
When they emerged for the encore, Page was holding the bouquet.  Hell, he earned it.  "Possum" was a pleasant last dance, albeit a tad overlong.  "Thanks, everybody.  We'll see you tomorrow night," offered Trey.  Tonight's show is Phish's 30th at MSG, in their 30th year, so expectations are colossal.  Should they continue on this trajectory, though, there's going to be an arena's worth of satisfied Phans pouring out of MSG at 11:40.


The Moma Dance > Rift / Roggae / Sparkle / The Line / Stash / 555 / It's Ice / Gumbo / Walls of the Cave

Jam / Down with Disease > Carini / Waves > Twist / Golgi Apparatus / David Bowie


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Phish 12/28 Review: When Shall I Don My Wingsuit?

In what has been a historic thirtieth year for Phish, the band decided to cap it off with their fourth consecutive New Year's run at Madison Square Garden.  After a summer tour chock full of jams, the band has most recently been at work crafting their next album, Wingsuit.  Would their time in the studio rein in the jams, or would the new songs breathe even more life into the sets?  More importantly, where would they go in the rotation?

The Phab Four emerged at 8:16, greeted by applause and an inflatable sheep that was tossed onto the stage.  Trey Anastasio placed the sheep beside his amps, where it would remain for the entire set.  As Jon Fishman kicked into "The Wedge," a lot of first song bets were lost.  The sound mix left more to be desired, with clipping from Mike Gordon's bass and flat vocals all around.  I'll blame the Chase Bridges for disrupting the room's acoustics, though it is interesting to think that over these past four years, Phish have played the Garden during each phase of its transformation.  As this was my first Phishing trip of the year, I was also taking in Chris Kuroda's new lighting rig, the band's modified stage positions, and what I assume was a fresh addition: a small podium next to Trey that offered him hand control of his effects.  A shining "Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan" brought some much needed energy into the building, but a sloppy "Mound" failed to continue the upward climb.  "Axilla" segued into "Birds of a Feather," which featured a small jam, a funky hint of what was to come next.  "Wolfman's Brother" was my first-set highlight exactly one year ago, when they dropped a perfectly timed "Little Drummer Boy" in its midst.  While they didn't delve into any Christmas carols this go-round, the boys took the tune to Funkytown, with Page McConnell as mayor.  While the return to the song's theme could've been smoother, the jam was at least proof that the show wasn't going to be a Saturday Night Special.  Trey began the chunky first chords of "Wilson," and immediately aborted the idea.  Moments later, they started up the Wingsuit number "Monica."  Choosing an unreleased song over their one with the most crowd participation unsettled the audience a bit, and Phish didn't fully regain everyone's attention until the arena-tailored "Free."  "Julius" ended the uneven set on a dancey high note.

Jam vehicle "Sand" was an even more surprising set opener than "Wedge."  Unfortunately, right when the trip was at its tastiest, the purple and blue lights shifted to red, red for "Piper."  I've always found "Piper" to be a bit too fast, but the boys handled the breakneck tempo well.  Trey hacking at his guitar wasn't necessarily the most seamless transition into "Back on the Train," but the crowd cheered appreciatively.  Then Phish barreled into "Tweezer," and the energy in the room exploded in a shower of glowsticks.  L
ast year's 12/28 "Tweezer" was quite the competition, however, especially considering last night's jam dropped off just as it reached its most dark and alien section... into "Backwards Down the Number Line?"  Thankfully it was the best rendition I've heard, culminating with some excellent guitar work by Anastasio.  "Steam" followed, revived for its first MSG appearance since two years ago's NYE stunt, which saw crowd members floating towards the venue's famous ceiling.  While the smoke machines in the rear of the stage couldn't contend with the stunt's aerial theatrics, the band were determined to best it musically, and did.  In an already expansive set, "Steam" was the "jampion," Trey huddling with Page to create some far-out layers.  A "Horse"-less "Silent in the Morning" was trailed by "Waiting All Night."  It's one of my favorite Wingsuit tunes, but it was sadly relegated to that cool-down recovery slot, before an extended "Run Like an Antelope" finished out the set.

"Thank you guys so much.  We are so happy to be back here," gushed McConnell.  "
We're here for a few more minutes," he added, and revved up "Suzy Greenberg."  As Page took a ride on the piano, Trey and Mike pretended to swordfight with their guitars.  They proceeded to mirror each other's moves and twirl their instruments as if they were in a color guard before turning their headstocks towards the crowd like applause-locating divining sticks.  That would've been a fine conclusion, but a "Tweeprise" was due.  Confetti cannons in the front row rocketed shiny streamers onto the band, and Trey danced around giddily.  It's too bad it took until the encore for the band to visibly have so much fun.  Perhaps they were just relaxed after having the first show in the bank, but I hope their enthusiasm picks up right there for tonight's festivities.


The Wedge / Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan / Mound / Axilla > Birds of a Feather / Wolfman's Brother / Wilson (tease) / Monica / Seven Below > Tube > Free / Julius

Sand > Piper > Back on the Train > Tweezer > Backwards Down the Number Line / Steam > Silent in the Morning / Waiting All Night / Run Like an Antelope

Suzy Greenberg / Tweezer Reprise

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Majorleans & Sundelles Play Real Indie Rock at Mercury Lounge

Over the years, the definition of "indie rock" has morphed from a business term into a genre.  Originally a way to categorize rock bands who were independent from the major record labels, it has become more a descriptor of a sound.  This is semi-logical, as many of these "indie" artists are now on thriving smaller labels.  And while they may not possess the coffers of the industry giants, they still have enough clout to garner airplay and sell tickets.  The fundamental flaw in using "indie" to describe what you're actually hearing is that the gamut is stylistically too diverse.  Does a grunge revival band count as indie even though they're paying tribute to a major label genre?  How atmospheric must a song be before it's considered indie?  At what point does the singer's voice become too tonally developed that the moniker no longer applies?  Last night, I went to the late show at Mercury Lounge to catch two Brooklyn indie bands, Sundelles and the Majorleans.  They're unsigned, so they are truly independent, but they don't sound anything alike.  And they shouldn't.

First up was the hirsute honcho of Sundelles, Sam Sundos, who exemplified 
the jangly lo-fi found on Teenbeat Records in the early '90s.  After opening with a medley of three of his oldest ditties, Sundos shifted the tides towards his latest release, No Milk, released a few weeks ago for free via Mediafire (download here).  Entirely backlit, Sam was hard to see, save for a shimmering crucifix dangling from his left earlobe.  "Are you guys taking me seriously?" he questioned halfway through the set.  "I wore this earring for Christmas, and no one's taking me seriously!" he shouted, feigning a temper tantrum.  The poppier No Milk numbers were definitely the crowd favorites, along with an unexpected cover of Big Star's "Thirteen."  "I didn't write that song, and I didn't sing it right," Sundos remarked before bringing his set to a close with the Beach Boys-flavored "Blue Sky."  I was a little let down that he didn't play my favorite song from the album, "Why (Make Up Your Mind)," but I guess that means I'll just have to see him again.

The Majorleans seemed looser than when I first saw them in April.  Perhaps it's because their long-overdue debut, Black Belt, is looming just around the corner.  Perhaps it was the inherent confidence that comes with headlining.  Perhaps they just felt at home in a room thick with friends.  No doubt it was a combination of all these things, and it resulted in a relaxed hangout vibe.  The feel of the show could be summed up by the enthusiastic yell of "One more!" from a crowdmember after the rocking opening cut "Go Down All the Time."  Nicky Francis laughed, and the band continued with nine additional tunes, including two I'd never seen live: "Mercy" and "Real Bad."  For the latter, dancers in the front row took to reenacting their roles from the music video (below).  Sound issues with the acoustic forced Francis to forfeit his guitar before the second verse, but that didn't stop him from miming a jam with his bandmates.  It was also nice to hear the song minus the harmonica that at times overpowers the studio version.  The Majorleans then moved the party to the roadhouse with the country-stomp of "Under Ma Wheels," another highlight.  And while they may have kept the mood casual, they still put the music first, as evidenced by Chris Buckle's searing classic rock solo on "Coal Mine/Cold Mind" and the tight pocket stitched by Hurricane Bells' rhythm boys on "Mr. Magic."

The plan is to spend next week pumping out the backlog of podcasts, which includes an interview with the Majorleans and Black Belt co-producer "Bassy" Bob Brockmann, so get your ears ready.

SUNDELLES - 12.18.13 - MERCURY LOUNGE (29 minutes)

Gold > Dead Youth > Waiting / Can't Win / Fight for My Time / Taking All the Fun / I'm Trouble / Thirteen / Blue Sky

THE MAJORLEANS - 12.18.13 - MERCURY LOUNGE (44 minutes)

Go Down All the Time / Coal Mine/Cold Mind / Imaginary Plane / Baby, Where Have All Your Lights Gone? / Real Bad / Under Ma Wheels / Never See the Seams / Mercy / Mr. Magic / Never Had Enough

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sasha Carlson Debuts Two New Splashh Tunes at Brooklyn Night Bazaar

Last year saw the inaugural run of the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, a holiday pop-up festival in Williamsburg featuring food, music, and art.  Its latest incarnation, located at 165 Banker St, is no longer a seasonal event, but a permanent attraction.  Regrettably, it has become much more sterilized and streamlined, primarily focused on artisanal foods from the usual suspects like Arancini Brothers, Ample Hills, and Fatty Cakes, than arts & crafts.  One improvement from last year, however, is a dedicated concert area that has already seen a number of local and international acts.

One such act was the London-based dream pop band, Splashh, who performed this past Friday and Saturday.  I went Friday night, and quickly realized that this wasn't the normal lineup I'd witnessed at Bowery Ballroom earlier this year.  With the rest of his bandmates still in the UK, lead singer/guitarist Sasha Carlson brought along two of his mates from Australia to assist on keys, bass, and programming.  As they dipped into "Lemonade" with help from a drum machine, it was apparent that this wasn't going to be the wall of guitars approach that has come to define Splashh's live show.  A crowd gathered by the picnic tables to watch, not yet ready to commit.  Complemented befittingly by a backdrop of animated spirals, "Headspins" followed, and Sasha's screams of "Yeah yeah yeah" sliced compellingly through the haze.  The tune assured the shy spectators that this was an act worth moving closer for.  "This song's a brand new one," echoed Carlson, the reverb effect still heavy on his microphone.  Built around an electronic loop, "646" culminated in repeated strains of Carlson crying the three digits of the title.  Screechy crackling from the programming console marred the beginning of "All I Wanna Do," but the issue was resolved by the song's middle.  "Sorry about that hectic feedback and shit," Sasha apologized.  They wrapped up the brief set with "Sandy's Dream," another dreamy noise-drenched track to add to the Splashh canon.

I spoke with Sasha before his Saturday Bazaar performance, where he shared the exciting news that the band's remaining members plan to join him next year in NYC to gig regularly and record their second record. The interview will be on The Next Round, so stay tuned.

SPLASHH - 12.06.13 - BROOKLYN NIGHT BAZAAR (27 minutes)

Lemonade / Headspins / 646 / All I Wanna Do / Sandy's Dream

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Revivalists Decree Brooklyn Bowl Show Year's Best

When I saw Galactic enrapture Terminal 5 earlier this year, they were accompanied on vocals by a man named David Shaw. I was flabbergasted at how such a booming, soulful voice could come from this super-lanky whiteboy. So when I found out that Shaw's band, the Revivalists, were headlining Brooklyn Bowl, I knew I had to go.

Halfway through the opening number "Catching Fireflies," I learned that the rest of the Revivalists were on par with the spectacle of Shaw. The stage was flanked by two of the New Orleans band's liveliest members, Ed Williams on pedal steel and Rob Ingraham on saxophone. Williams often leaned so hard into his instrument that it teetered dangerously on two legs, while Ingraham whirled his woodwind around to amp up the other half of the room. Although their sound would be classified as rock, it was definitely imbued with that NOLA party attitude. Most songs were rife with call-and-response sections and just dancey enough to have everyone grooving on a Friday night. Welcoming us into "Chase's House," David removed his button-down shirt to reveal a white V-neck. "This is probably the funnest show we've played in a long time. My cheeks hurt from smiling. Straight up," he admitted.

The show may have been opened by 14-year-old guitar prodigy, Bobby Paltauf, but the Revivalists introduced to the stage an even younger axeplayer, 10-year-old Brandon Niederauer. Although it would be trite to say that they whipped the crowd into a frenzy as they tore into "Whipping Post," it would also be entirely accurate. Young Niederauer closed his eyes like an old bluesman, his fingers moving nimbly along the fretboard as he traded licks with Williams and Zack Feinberg. "How do you follow that?" asked a stunned Shaw, taking a rare break between songs. They rightfully chose to pull back a bit with "Soulfight." Just six songs after his initial review, Shaw clarified, "So I've gotta say this. It's definitely the funnest show we've played in a long time." Having played for almost two hours, the band closed out the set with fan favorites "Appreciate Me II" and "Criminal."

They couldn't stay away for long, however. "Best show all year for sure. Definitely best crowd," confirmed David. The Revivalists launched into the rap/rock "All in the Family" to snag one last batch of participation from the audience. As the tune neared its end, Shaw shouted, "Are you ready for this, Brooklyn?" I don't think any of us were. David peeled off his t-shirt, and they stampeded into "Bulls on Parade." Let me tell you, you've never heard the song like this. With powerful blasts of bari sax and Tom Morello's solo played on lap steel, it consummated an already terrific night of music. It may even end up on my best performances of the year list, right beside "Does It Really Make a Difference," which Shaw sang at Terminal 5.

THE REVIVALISTS - 11.22.13 - BROOKLYN BOWL (2 hours, 10 minutes)

Catching Fireflies / Stand Up / Concrete (Fish Out of Water) / When I'm Able / Chase's House > Sunny Days / Bullet Proof Vest / Not Turn Away > Common Cents / Navigate Below > Upright / Keep Goin' / Whipping Post (feat. Brandon Niederauer) / Soulfight / Soul's Too Loud / Two Ton Wrecking Ball / Appreciate Me II / Criminal

All in the Family > Bulls on Parade

Friday, November 22, 2013

Incidental Animals Play Their Second Show Ever at Brooklyn Bowl

Weddings bring people together.  ALO were hired to play a wedding event in NYC, but with Zach Gill on tour with Jack Johnson, Kyle Hollingsworth of the String Cheese Incident was tapped to man the keys.  Then the group was filled out with the horn section of Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman, compliments of Trey Anastasio Band.  The group, known as Incidental Animals, decided to book a few gigs to practice, and performed their second show ever on Thursday at Brooklyn Bowl.

The concert was opened by a Fort Lauderdale 5-piece called the Heavy Pets.  The Pets began with "Xylophone," which reminded me of Phish's "Free."  And while the tune may have crossed the ten-minute mark, the jam never progressed into a different headspace.  "We've got a brand new song for you guys," Jeff Lloyd announced, turning the vocal duties over to keyboardist Jim Wuest.  Unfortunately, Wuest turned his vocal duties over to a vocoder, rendering the lyrics unintelligible.  Ditching the vocal effects, "Stay the Night" went smoother: real lite FM baby-makin' music.  But the band claimed it was their 900th performance, so I expected much more experimentation.  "Help Me Help You" did feature an unexpectedly funky breakdown, but that was quickly expunged by guitar noise.  The song received a helpful upgrade from guests Cressman and Hartswick, who took turns soloing.  That would've been the ideal place to end the set, but they continued with "Last Babies," a tune that did little more than suggest that Mike Garulli probably listens to a lot of Dispatch and Slightly Stoopid.

Incidental Animals kicked off their set with the SCI number, "Can't Wait Another Day."  Dan slathered something similar to "Barbeque" sauce onto the peppy island tune before taking it into a haunting, spacier world.  Once they emerged from the darkness, Jennifer brightened things up with her trumpet, stretching the song out to 13 minutes.  "We care about you.  That's why we take the time to tune," informed Dan, readying his guitar for the rarely played "I Wanna Feel It."  Hartswick took lead vocals on the most joyous "Piece of My Heart" I've ever heard.  Always a delight, "Try" was enhanced by the ladies, who played the I-Threes card, singing back the last word of each line of the chorus.

It was refreshing to witness the smiles across the stage as the musicians figured out how to gel, with Cressman and Hartswick arranging their horn parts on the fly.  The brass reinvigorated "Lady Loop," which was also intensified by Kyle's spooky Virus TI synthesizer.  
Having never seen Hollingsworth before, it was interesting to watch him work, mouthing along to the notes from his keyboards.  I got quite the kick out of imagining that the sounds were actually coming from his mouth.  Following "Naïve Melody," they played a fun Dan ditty I've never heard before, which I'll call "I Thought You Were My Friend."  Steve Adams finally got a chance to sing on "Falling Dominoes," and the girls proved they were just as talented minus their mouthpieces, as they traded verses on "Higher Ground" to finish out the set.

A minute later, the Animals returned.  "We got the OK to go another five hours straight," joked Kyle.  Jennifer ushered in a chill take on "Walls of Jericho" with a jazzy intro.  Once the song reached its climax, the band segued into
 the Jacksons' "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)," the perfect choice to prep the dancefloor for Bowl Train.  Aside from getting married and hiring them yourself, the only way to see them is via the Relix stream recorded that evening.  So find that special someone, and do us all a favor. 

After the show, Lebo and I went across the street to the Wythe Hotel's rooftop bar to tape an interview for The Next Round, so look for that in the upcoming weeks.

INCIDENTAL ANIMALS - 11.21.13 - BROOKLYN BOWL (1 hour, 49 minutes)

Can't Wait Another Day / I Wanna Feel It / Piece of My Heart / Try > Shining Star > Try / Lady Loop > Let's Go Outside / This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody) > Jam* > This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody) / I Thought You Were My Friend* / Falling Dominoes / Higher Ground > Gospel Jam* > Higher Ground

Walls of Jericho > Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Metric Reclaim History at Bowery Ballroom

Having rocked Madison Square Garden less than a week prior, Metric pleasantly surprised fans by announcing an intimate gig at the Bowery Ballroom, their first show at the venue since 2005.  Unfettered by both time and the pressure to gain Paramore fans, the band opened up the setlist, reaching back to revive seven Live It Out tracks.

With no support act, the band took the stage a little after 9pm to cheers from the crowd.  Emily Haines rubbed her hands together and placed them on her keyboard.  She began playing the first notes of "Nothing But Time," the slow-burner a 
far cry from the torrent of MSG's "Black Sheep."  It was obvious Haines was more relaxed, all the way down to her outfit.  Donning a thin black blouse under an unbuttoned tan military shirt, she wasn't relying on sparkles to catch your eyes, though she did sport some pot leaf bling on the sleeve.  After two more Synthetica tunes, Metric began their plunge into the past with the gentle "Ending Start."  "Why is the Bowery Ballroom still my favorite place to play?" Haines questioned.  "Empty" was a standout, Emily oscillating her head vigorously as the audience sang along.  Haines took some time to express her feelings on how the band was somehow left out of the indie music history book despite being in its Williamsburg epicenter in 2001.  It seemed like she was lamenting their exclusion, but clarified when asked what they would've done differently: "You know, fuckin' nothing, man."  More set highlights included a "Patriarch on a Vespa/Handshakes" mash-up, a Jimmy and Emily "Love is a Place", and a stellar performance of "Clone."

Jimmy and Emily returned to the stage for an encore, and Emily shared her optimism for the new mayor.  "This song is dedicated to the end of stop and frisk," she said, ready to begin "The Police & the Private."  As it turns out, fans aren't the only ones who get annoyed by iPads at concerts.  Catching sight of a tablet in the front row, Emily abruptly halted.  "Yo, yo, yo, I can't sing with that thing recording me.  It's gonna shirk me out.  I hate this shit, man," she said.  The iPad was confiscated with approval from the audience, and the duo proceeded.  Josh Winstead and Joules Scott-Key rejoined them for "Too Little Too Late," "Glass Ceiling," and an impressive "Gold Guns Girls" that saw Shaw, looking the part of Indiana Jones in his hat and vest, ripping into his solo to melt faces like he'd just lifted the lid off the Ark of the Covenant.  The rhythm section departed once more, and Haines announced, "We'll leave you with a lullaby.  Did you get everything you wanted from your Metric show?"  More cheers (aside from my roommate, who really wanted to hear "Black Sheep" again).  Shaw and Haines finished things with an acoustic "Gimme Sympathy," encouraging the crowd to accompany them.  Smiling, Emily looked around the room and remarked, "Well, I don't know what it is, but it's ours."  To which I would pose the question: How many of their turn-of-the-millennium Williamsburg compatriots are even together, let alone still making compelling music?

METRIC - 11.19.13 - BOWERY BALLROOM (1 hour, 27 minutes)

Nothing But Time / Youth Without Youth > Speed the Collapse / Ending Start / Empty / Patriarch on a Vespa > Handshakes / Help I'm Alive / Love is a Place / Synthetica / Clone / Breathing Underwater / Sick Muse

The Police & the Private / Too Little Too Late / Glass Ceiling / Gold Guns Girls / Gimme Sympathy

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Metric & Hellogoodbye Make a Great Case for Openers

I hope you got to Madison Square Garden for the Paramore show early enough to see the opening acts.  It's hard to believe that just three months ago, I was within a few yards of Hellogoodbye in the backyard of an eyeglasses store, and last night I was hundreds of feet away in the nosebleeds of MSG.  (Tangent: The venue's new flying bridges are terrible.  The beachball-esque ceiling, which droops to the scoreboard in the center, is without a doubt, the Garden's most iconic feature, and now it's obscured by two monstrosities.  It's absolutely shocking to me that the architects would sacrifice that view to the tune of 430 more seats.)  While I'm sure the bridges also disrupt the room's acoustics, the sound mix for "...And Everything Becomes a Blur" was the muddiest I've heard in the building.  But perhaps there wasn't enough time to soundcheck properly, as it seemed every member in the band also had a keyboard in front of them.  "This is a kind-of old song," said Forrest Kline, gearing up "When We First Met" and the directing the audience to clap along for the pre-chorus.  They followed with "Swear You're in Love," which set up a pattern of injecting more sounds into the second verses of the tunes.  "This is an old song," explained Kline before "Here (in Your Arms)."  After so much avoidance, it was nice to see Forrest embracing his electro-pop past, employing a vocoder and deviating little from its recorded version, save for some sweet guitar licks in the second verse.  He shared vocal duties with the arena on the final chorus, the line "whispers, 'Hello, I've missed you quite terribly'" anything but a whisper.  For "Just Don't Let Go Just Don't," he grabbed his microphone, which was attached to a cable of blinking lights, and showed off some nerdy dance moves at the edge of the stage.  They finished the short set with their most recent album's title cut, "(Everything is) Debatable."  "I wish we could sit and chat all night," Kline remarked sincerely, and retreated backstage.

With an ebullient tide of distortion, Metric powered into "Black Sheep."  They may have been the middle act, but the band obviously set out to prove (and did) that they were capable of headlining the historic venue.  Emily Haines was an effervescent vision in her sparkly outfit, which gave way to a pair of shapely legs.  It's no secret how she stays in such fantastic shape.  The stage is her gym.  Never content just to stand still, she spent the entire concert hopping from foot to foot in an aerobic dance.  She was an absolute delight to watch, especially little things like pulling her microphone away to extend each "miiiiind" in "Youth Without Youth," or the tambourine theatrics to emphasize the crescendoes in "Help I'm Alive."  "Synthetica" was probably my favorite performance of the night, with Jimmy Shaw's clean guitar lines shining brightly until the dense layers all forged into a dizzying climax under the strobe lights.  I didn't want it to stop, but as it does on the album, the tune ended abruptly.  "Breathing Underwater" saw Emily jabbing her tambourine triumphantly into the sky to punctuate each "Is this my life?"  Haines strapped on a six-string to play rhythm on "Gold Guns Girls," and Shaw came center stage to rip into a soaring solo.  Metric finished their set by giving the hallowed arena some "Stadium Love."  "Thank you, Hayley!  Thank you, New York City!" shouted Emily as she left the stage, Jimmy's guitar still feeding back to mix with the cheers.  Yes, thank you, Hayley Williams, for picking such talented bands to open for you.

HELLOGOODBYE - 11.13.13 - MADISON SQUARE GARDEN (26 minutes, 11 seconds)

SET - 
...And Everything Becomes a Blur / When We First Met / Swear You're in Love / Here (in Your Arms) / Just Don't Let Go Just Don't / (Everything is) Debatable

METRIC - 11.13.13 - MADISON SQUARE GARDEN (38 minutes, 23 seconds)

Black Sheep / Youth Without Youth / Help I'm Alive / Synthetica / Breathing Underwater / Sick Muse / Gold Guns Girls / Stadium Love

Monday, November 11, 2013

I Missed Phil Lesh at Jazz & Colors, But I Did Get a Pumpkin Pie Blizzard

The Jazz & Colors Festival celebrated its second year in Central Park on Saturday.  Sadly, my photographer Carrie and I got a late start on the day, and only made it for the final 45 minutes of the event.  Most of that time was spent attempting to match the skyline in the pic of Phil Lesh, Eric Krasno, and Joe Russo I'd seen on Jambase.  Little did I know that the trio had already called it quits after a brief half-hour set consisting of two jams and a cover of "Get Back."  The other thirty bands participating were supposed to be following the same setlist, though you wouldn't have known it if you were there.  Aside from the bands being too spread out for a continuous listening experience, the different configurations of instruments and the improvisational nature of jazz combined to make each stop along the path and entirely different show.

Starting at the Pond on the park's southeastern corner, we passed right in front of Walking Distance, who were stationed at one of Central Park's most scenic vistas.  Though several trees in the area were still green, the view was accented by splashes of yellow, red, and purple.  We made our way though the park, passing rock-climbing children and an imitation Big Bird posing for photos.  I caught a bit of the Hot Future Five in the Dairy, but their position under the roof wasn't conducive to taking in the autumnal scenery.  Eventually we were able to follow our ears to the Naumberg Bandshell for Arturo O'Farrill & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.  Situated on the stage, this was the largest group of musicians I saw during the day.  They had attracted quite the crowd due to their prominent spot, and people were dancing to the music.  We heard more sounds coming from the Bethesda Terrace, but upon discovery, it was just some band of gypsies.  We retraced our steps to go meet our friend Maritza back at the Pond.  On the way, we happened upon Frank London's Klezmer Brass All Stars at the bottom of the Mall.  It was hard to get a good view of the players, so we continued back to catch the final notes from Walking Distance.

I wished I'd gotten there earlier to hear more (especially the Phil Lesh set), but now I know for next year.  Which means yes, I would go again next year.  I'd recommend they cram the park with even more bands though, allowing the music to never stop.  The three of us extended our autumn-themed journey with a trip on the Staten Island Ferry to NYC's lone Dairy Queen for a pumpkin pie blizzard.  Despite the wonderful fall foliage I'd seen earlier, the Statue of Liberty in front of the blood red sunset was my favorite view of the day.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Jenny Owen Youngs Unseats the Crowd at BAM Café

Jenny Owen Youngs played a free show on Friday as part of the BAM Café Live concert series.  The last time I was at BAM was for the Joy Formidable, and the staff had removed the chairs and tables to allow the crowd to get closer to the action (and the band to venture into the crowd).  But on Friday, this JOY was presented with the formidable challenge of uniting a room of seated patrons organized in the same configuration as at a comedy show I'd seen there.  While the ushers insisted on keeping a chasm of floor space between the seats and the stage, and the building's lofty ceilings served to amplify the chatter coming from the back bar, Youngs didn't let it affect her.

Assisted by her friendly demeanor, Jenny is so instantly likable because she puts so much passion into her vocals onstage.  She's capable of both shouting uninhibitedly like a punk or cooing sweetly, and she often does so within the same line.  Fronting a power trio that included bassist Mike Tuccillo and drummer Elliot Jacobson, she charged into the set with "Love for Long."  Following the sea shanty stylings of "Clean Break" and the poppy "Your Apartment," JOY threw everyone for a curveball when she revealed the next number would be "Colors of the Wind" from Disney's Pocahontas.  She requested that we accompany her: "If you blank on anything, you can just go 'bobcat, otter, rainstorm.'  You know, nature images."  From my seat in the back, I didn't really hear all the voices of the mountains, but Jenny and band successfully morphed the song to fit her sound, coming across like the version Pocahontas would've sung once England-bound on John Smith's ship.

A few fans who had seats in the front row began trickling into the space directly in front of the stage, but to be sure, Jenny still had to battle with the bar.  Unfortunately, the quiet "Why You Fall" fell victim to the rebounding conversations, but the audience was recaptured by Tuccillo's growling fuzz bass in a beefier take on "Led to the Sea."  Jenny took a moment to share the hilarious, rambling introductions of her bandmates, including referring to Mike as a "lover of dogs."  "I've been playing a lot of solo shows recently, so I haven't been introducing people," she admitted.  In fact, the last time I saw her perform was a solo opening spot at Webster Hall, where she played Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."  While this time it wasn't exactly the singalong that the crowd of anxious-to-sing-anything Frank Turner fans at Webster made it, Youngs utilized the band to manifest a pretty cool live fadeout.  After the cover, she dismissed the boys, but she didn't want to be alone.  "Are you guys feeling like participating?" Youngs polled the crowd.  She tutored us on the gentle chorus to "Firefight," and though muffled, I heard the refrain rising from the tables.  She invited Elliot and Mike back to close out the show with three of my favorites, "Great Big Plans," "Pirates," and "Last Person."  By the end of the hour-long set, the space in the front was packed with dancers of all ages.

JENNY OWEN YOUNGS - 11.08.13 - BAM CAFÉ (59 minutes, 30 seconds)

Love for Long / Clean Break / Your Apartment / Colors of the Wind / Why You Fall / Start & Stop / Led to the Sea / Ring of Fire / Sleep Machine / Firefight / Great Big Plans / Pirates / Last Person

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Night at the Rockwood with Grey Reverend, Taurus, & Fancy Colors

I made the rounds at Rockwood Music Hall last night, visiting Stages 1, 2, and 3.  The first stop was Stage 3 for the sold-out Grey Reverend performance.  L.D. Brown a.k.a. Grey Reverend has quite the captivating backstory.  While making headway as a jazz guitar soloist, Brown began to notice problems with the dexterity in his hands.  He was diagnosed with a neurological disorder called focal dystonia that affects fine motor skills.  Rather than give up his instrument, Brown turned lemons into lemonade, and adjusted his playing to suit a minimalistic folk approach.  The combination of how he uses his fingers (including his thumb) on the neck and off-the-cuff interesting tuning results in his anomalous tone.  This unpredictability went both ways, from the stirring ring of the final chord in "Altruistic Holiday" to the muddled middle of "The Payoff."  "One by One" featured the most complex of the guitar parts, requiring both rhythm and lead.  At its end, Brown sighed, "That was exhausting."  The great unifier to the songs was Brown's haunting voice, which could somehow simultaneously sound meek and powerful.  The audience was dead silent for each number, entranced as they pondered the thoughts in his lyrics.  His dry, witty banter in between tunes made him all the more endearing.  "I'm gonna take things down just a little bit," he said.  "If you didn't think things could get any more down."  Before the final song, "Sunday Soldiers," a loud thump came from the rear of the room by the door.  "Is everyone alright back there?" L.D. questioned.  "Someone just passed out from the awesomeness," he added with a laugh.

I popped into Stage 1 for the first time in years to catch a little of Taurus, who are currently in the midst of a month-long Thursday night residency at the club.  Bassist Chris Morrissey was leading the band through a grooving new tune when I entered.  They followed it with a song from their first album, which had a more alt-rock Foo Fighters vibe.  The last number I caught was another unreleased one, but if I had to guess, I'd say it's still in the germination stage.  While the drums and bass proceeded like an upbeat jazz section, the guitars fought over whether they were playing country or psychedelic rock.  Throw Morrissey's pop vocals on top, and you had four genres in an all-out brawl.  That space has always been a little claustrophobic for me, so I made my way next door.

I've been a big fan of Jupiter One since 2009, and I learned at Kishi Bashi's Irving Plaza concert that the other members are now in a band called Fancy Colors.  When I walked into Stage 2, I saw Zac Colwell, but I was surprised to find Dave Heilman absent.  In his place was Adam Wall, wearing sunglasses with one lens missing.  "Tonight, me and Adam are presenting the songs like this," informed Colwell.  "We're experimenting."  And experiment they did.  The first song began with Zac playing a flute and a saxophone, some fairly unusual instruments for a rock band, but then Adam trumped the weirdness by blowing into a large conch shell.  They followed with "The Way You Walk Away," a more conventional tune with a choppy riff and super-smooth hook.  "The Last One" was an extended cut, ranging from gentle plucking to abrasive Flaming Lips-esque drones, before it culminated in a sax solo that charmed a wine-swilling patron into an interpretive dancer.  She grabbed a partner for "Driftin' on a Cloud," within which Colwell removed his saxophone's neck and used it as its own instrument.  At five songs, it was a brief set, but it capped off a night of truly intriguing music.

GREY REVEREND - 11.07.13 - ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL, STAGE 3 (1 hour, 6 minutes)

I Hope You Get Killed* / Altruistic Holiday / My Hands / Nightingale / The Payoff / One by One / Forsake / Into Pieces / Belafonte / Like Mockingbirds / A Hero's Lie / Everlasting / Sunday Soldiers

FANCY COLORS - 11.07.13 - ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL, STAGE 2 (39 minutes, 30 seconds)

I'm a Ladder* / The Way You Walk Away / The Donkey of Anxiety* / The Last One / Driftin' on a Cloud

Sunday, November 3, 2013

They Might Be Giants Celebrate Album 1 at Terminal 5

On Saturday, I saw They Might Be Giants for the fifth and final time of this year.

Opening the show was Miniature Tigers, who I've followed since their 2008 full-length, 
Tell It to the Volcano.  By the time I saw them at CMJ that fall, I was well-acquainted with their songs.  I consider it my favorite album that sounds like anyone could've made it, which is a testament to their knack for melody and unconventional lyrical topics.  However, as the years have progressed, the band has morphed into a sort of Pet Shop Boys tribute act.  Paired with acoustic guitar chords, Charlie Brand's reedy voice was endearing, but set against the polished synths of their current material, he just sounds like someone who can't sing.  Brand expressed his excitement for They Might Be Giants: "I hope they play 'Fingertips.'  That's my personal favorite."  Yeah, and I wish you'd play "Cannibal Queen."  With no need to strum a guitar anymore, Brand has been relegated to awkwardly walking around during the songs, or resorting to exhibitionism like grabbing bandmate Rick Schaier by the shoulders to kiss him on the lips at the end of "Gold Skull."  While the big sound of "Oblivious" and a line about Aladdin on VHS in "We Used to Be the Shit" were pleasing, nothing was as original or spirited as the tunes on their first album.  They played nothing from it.

They Might Be Giants, however, performed their entire first LP.  "Released in 1986 to almost complete silence," according to John Flansburgh, their eponymous debut came to be affectionately referred to as The Pink Album, due to the pink background of the cover.  Listening to the vinyl in preparation for the concert, I realized just how influential a record it is.  It's difficult to imagine that the Elephant 6 Collective could've even existed had TMBG not paved the way in Pink.  Ever since the fantastic Celebrate Brooklyn gig, when They revealed that They would be playing the album in its entirety at Terminal 5, I was excited to finally see some of my favorites live.  And then came the announcement two weeks ago that it would be their last US tour date until 2015, taking things to a new level and causing me to put too much pressure on the show to be perfect.

TMBG took the stage as a different band in "The Mesopotamians," and quickly launched into the song that has traditionally opened their shows this year, "You're on Fire."  But fans like myself don't go to show after show just for the catchy songs; the witty banter between and sometimes even within those songs is what truly makes a TMBG show unique.  Flansburgh referred to "Tesla" as "almost all true.  This is like the Where's Waldo of songs.  I think if you listen to it, you can figure out the part that's not true."  After "When Will You Die," everything went dark.  Silence except for an answering machine recording of a woman named Gloria having a very hard time understanding what exactly They Might Be Giants means.  The infamous Dial-a-Song message primed the air nicely for the main event.  The two Johns, Flans on guitar and Linnell on accordion, returned to the stage, and began "I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die."  This meant two things: 1) They wouldn't be slaves the to the tracklisting, and more importantly, 2) Linnell would be playing a lot more accordion!  Their backup band returned for "She's an Angel," nicely countrified by some slide guitar from JF.  Two minutes into "Hide Away Folk Family," They commanded the crowd to "Scream as if you're in Hell," which was fun, but its best moment occurred when the Johns tried to approximate the rewound vocals at the end of the number.  If you were listening closely enough, you would've heard JL sneak in a "Meryl Streep."  "Boat of Car" followed, with Flans' vocals pogoing from Johnny Cash bass to Margaret Seiler mezzo-soprano.  As JF procured a harmonica for "32 Footsteps," we all learned that the instrument is symmetrical, so that you can accidentally play it upside-down.  This lead to a strange riff on adult-onset Alzheimer's, which Linnell tagged with "As soon as the show starts, we'll talk about it."  He finally put down his squeezebox and resumed his post at the keys for a rocking "Youth Culture Killed My Dog."  Before "Number Three," Flansburgh announced, "This is in the key of F."  "For those of you playing along," Linnell jested.  He switched to bass clarinet for "Hotel Detective," and then it was time for the tune I was looking forward to the most: "Rhythm Section Want Ad."  The first verse felt rushed, but everything was reconciled with an excellent "Powerhouse" section, Linnell banging on the keyboard as Dan Miller made his guitar sing like a Warner Bros assembly line.  It was my highlight of the night.

While the band teased Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," the Johns headed to stage left to stick their hands into the Avatars of They: two sock puppets that sing songs but are mainly known for their repartee.  "Toddler Hiway" was the selection they'd been given; in fact, the shortest song on the album.  "The first thing I thought was, 'The fuck?'" said the shafted Blue Avatar (JF).  The duo dropped their puppets for the bizarre "Chess Piece Face" and got the crowd singing on "Alienation's for the Rich," particularly the line about Miller High Life.  "Thank you!  We're gonna play a song from our first album," laughed Linnell.  They charged into "Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes," segueing into "Absolutely Bill's Mood."  The record's biggest single and always-welcome setlist addition, "Don't Let's Start," completed the string of first record cuts.  After the obligatory "Damn Good Times," JL finally revealed his true feelings on the 11th president: "He was a dick." It was one of the more energetic takes on "James K. Polk" I've heard, and the potency carried over into the caffeinated version of "Black Ops."  "Doctor Worm" finished the set, although it lacked the punch of the horns, not to mention the fact that Dan Miller's mic wasn't on for half the song.

There was still one track remaining from Pink: "The Day."  Thankfully, the Johns came back to play it.  I'd noticed throughout the evening that the crowd had seemed divided, and this confirmed it.  Split down the middle by a too-tall guy near the front, the left side of the room waved their giant arms like trees, while those to the right stood idly by.  John and John then went to "Istanbul," their "take me back" interaction developing into a monk chant.  They wrapped up the encore with "Nanobots," Linnell facing the audience, while the band turned their backs to blend into the video projection.  After more applause, the members reclaimed their stage positions.  "We love this town.  We're thinking of staying," joked Linnell.  If there was ever a song to unite the segregated crowd, it was "Birdhouse in Your Soul," and it worked like a charm.  I was holding out for "The End of the Tour," but "Birdhouse" was an effective closer.  The band didn't reference their upcoming touring hiatus onstage at all.  I guess I would've rather not known about the 2014 no-show policy until after the concert.  I would've approached it differently; not as a farewell, but for what it was: a charming celebration of a great album.

MINIATURE TIGERS - 11.02.13 - TERMINAL 5 (30 minutes)

Never Gonna Let You Go* / Better Apart* / Gold Skull / Cleopatra / We Used to Be the Shit* / Oblivious* / Angel Bath / Sex on the Regular

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS - 11.02.13 - TERMINAL 5 (1 hour, 35 minutes)

The Mesopotamians / You're on Fire / Tesla / When Will You Die > Untitled / I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die / She's an Angel / Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head / Hide Away Folk Family / Boat of Car / 32 Footsteps / Youth Culture Killed My Dog / Number Three / (She Was a) Hotel Detective / Rhythm Section Want Ad / Paranoid (tease) / Toddler Hiway / Chess Piece Face / Alienation's for the Rich / Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes > Absolutely Bill's Mood / Everything Right is Wrong Again / Rabid Child / Don't Let's Start / Damn Good Times > James K. Polk / Black Ops / Doctor Worm

The Day / Istanbul (Not Constantinople) / Nanobots

Birdhouse in Your Soul