Sunday, August 25, 2013

Afropunk Festival Day 2: Setlists, Photos, & Review

After seeing Theophilus London and the Heavy on Saturday, I returned to Afropunk Festival on Sunday.  I made sure to start with the Coup, having always regretted not catching them when they performed at NYU.  With his Afro, mutton chops, and tasseled pants, Boots Riley may have looked the part of a blaxploitation film character, but it was apparent that he wasn't going to be exploited.  "We came to funk y'all hard. That's easy to do," he proclaimed during "Everythang."  "We could also funk you softly, like the sweet angel of revolution whispering in your ear," he said, varying the song's volume.  The Coup made their way through cuts old and new, and the excitement of the crowd proved yet again that hip-hop is best performed with a live band.  Boots went unaccompanied on "Ghetto Blaster," spitting his rhymes with precision and speed, before turning the mic over to Silk-E to sing her "Did You Give Her What I Get."  A natural born performer and expressive vocalist, I wouldn't have minded more tunes from her had there been time.  Riley returned to finish it out with "Fat Cats, Bigga Fish," each bandmember taking a solo, including a few cartwheels from bassist J.J. Jungle.

The next act on the stage was K-OS.  I'd heard good things about the Canadian musician, but I'd never listened to his music.  Starting the set with Public Enemy's "Terminator X to the Edge of Panic" was a nice choice to initiate the Brooklyn crowd, but as he moved into his own material, I realized the audience was already well-acquainted with his catalog, singing along to "I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman" and "Sunday Morning."  K-OS strapped on a guitar towards the end of the latter, teasing "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Space Oddity."  "This is the first show in a long time that I've done without that," he stated, throwing his in-ear wireless pack to the ground.  "Just straight monitor. That's all you, so thank you," he said to his fans.  After the Moog-heavy "Catdiesel," K announced, "They're telling me I got one more song. There's only one way to end this shit."  Finishing with "Superstarr, pt. 0," K-OS called out, "Brooklyn changed my life! Thank you, Brooklyn!"  Though his performance didn't change my life, I'm now going to check out his body of work.

After a stop at the food trucks for some grilled cheese, I walked over the other stage to see a bit of the Big Freedia's twerkfest.  While I wasn't too into the music, I have to admit it was entertaining to see everyone having such a good time rapidly shaking their booties to "Azz Everywhere."

Having missed them at Beale St. Music Festival because their set time conflicted with Deer Tick's, I finally got my chance to see Vintage Trouble.  I must say the decision wouldn't have been as easily made had this happened first.  Singer Ty Taylor eased in with the first few lines of "High Times (They Are Coming)" before kicking it into high gear and keeping it there for the next four songs.  Taylor was an intense ball of energy, twirling his mic cable around like a rhythmic gymnast's ribbon, vocalizing passionately up and down the scale, and changing his cornflower blue suit to navy with soul sweat.  Anyone who had heard of the band got exactly what they came for, and newbies like my friend couldn't stop saying how amazing they were.  I would've liked a few slower songs to further accentuate Taylor's voice, but when Nalle Colt came in with the dirty rock slide-guitar of "Run Like a River," I conceded that fast was fine.  Ty ran like a river out into the crowd and stood on top of the barricades to finish the tune.  They wrapped things up with the claptastic "Strike Your Light," and it came as no surprise to hear rumblings of an encore chant.

The schedule was running a tad late, so those Vintage Troublemakers didn't get their wishes, but one Afropunk attendee had his personal dream fulfilled.  W. Kamau Bell, who introduced TV on the Radio at last year's festival, had the honor of bringing out his favorite band, Living Colour.  Unfortunately for him, they weren't ready and he had to stall.  "This is not what I was trained to do, everybody. I thought I'd be watching 'Cult of Personality' by now," he explained.  He told a few jokes about mixed-race children and teased the band members as they tuned.  Finally, everything was set, and he turned the stage over to his idols.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of their debut LP, Vivid, they played the album in order, beginning with "Cult of Personality."  Corey Glover demonstrated that he could rock out even while wearing an argyle sweater vest, entering the crowd to belt out the hook.  "I used to get in a lot of trouble in this park. I've done shit my parents still don't know about," Glover admitted.  He emerged from backstage during "Desperate" holding a handheld video camera to capture the cheering crowd and his own performance.  He was having a blast onstage.  They all were, taunting each other and smiling widely, as if they had only recently formed.  The only person who may have been having more fun was Kamau, who was going HAM right next to me, singing along with every lyric.  "Open Letter (to a Landlord)" was soulful, "Glamour Boys" was giddy, and everyone knew the answer to "What's Your Favorite Color?"  During the final number, "Which Way to America?" in which the band questions why they don't have the same luxury items (like VCRs. It's a little dated.) as a richer, white America, Vernon Reid exclaimed, "Some of you have never seen a VCR in your life! In your life! Oh my God!"  Over heaps of feedback from his guitar, Reid repeated several times, "I remember when this was in a parking lot," until the song finished with a roar from the crowd.  Afropunk may have become too big for a parking lot, but that's only a good thing.


Everythang / Strange Arithmetic / We Are the Ones / The Magic Clap / 5 Million Ways to Kill a C.E.O. > Gunsmoke / Ghetto Blaster / Did You Give Her What I Get / Fat Cats, Bigga Fish


Terminator X to the Edge of Panic > Electrik Heat - The Seekwill / I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman / Emcee Murdah > Forgot About Dre / Sunday Morning > Sunday Bloody Sunday (tease) > Space Oddity (tease) / I'm So in Love with You & You Don't Even Know Girl* / O.P.P. (tease) > Catdiesel / Superstarr, pt. 0


High Times (They Are Coming) > Blues Hand Me Down / Nancy Lee / Total Strangers / Pelvis Pusher / Nobody Told Me / Run Like the River / Strike Your Light


Cult of Personality / I Want to Know / Middle Man / Desperate People / Open Letter (to a Landlord) / Funny Vibe / Memories Can't Wait / Broken Hearts > Glamour Boys / What's Your Favorite Color? (Theme Song) > Which Way to America?

The Heavy Play Afropunk & Brooklyn Bowl in the Same Night

Rarely is my own throat sore from singing at a concert.  Then again, I don't usually see the Heavy twice in one day.  But after their brilliant Irving Plaza gig last August, I was damn sure gonna try.

I missed Theophilus London earlier this year at Prospect Park, so I arrived at Afropunk Festival in time to catch his set.  I probably should've stayed out by the food trucks.  Debuting several songs from his upcoming Vibezz album, Theophilus seemed obsessed with making everything sound perfect, and abandoned most numbers midway through.  Judging from his perfectionist qualities, it came as a bit of a shock to hear him say, "Let's get back to the human error, you feel me?" while expressing his distaste for loops.  I guess no one told Mr. London about the guy onstage cueing beats through a laptop.  At one point, he chucked a bottle of water out into the crowd, which struck a woman directly in the chest.  She left, pissed off, while London motioned his stagehands for a replacement water.  While the rapper does make some interesting choices production-wise, he is not a skilled emcee by any means.  His voice is even duller than his flow, and he falls victim to several rap clichés.  Take "Do Girls," a song in which he touts his ability to turn a lesbian straight, the kind of misogynistic braggadocio that too readily pervades his genre.  London failed to really engage the crowd, save for "Jump," only thanks to its sampling of Ginuwine's "Pony."

But that was okay because the next act was one that never fails to ignite an audience: the Heavy.  They ran through three tunes before sunset, "Can't Play Dead," "What You Want Me to Do?," and "Sixteen," each enhanced by a three-piece horn section.  "Looks like the sunshine's disappeared," remarked lead singer, Kelvin Swaby. "We're not happy about that. You want some more sunshine? Let's bring the sunshine in," he said, setting the stage for the reggae vibe of "Cause for Alarm."  "Short Change Hero," started a string of audience participation, first for "the devils," a term for longtime Heavy fans, and then the entire crowd howling on "The Big Bad Wolf."  You could feel the tremendous energy in the park, but it wasn't enough for Kelvin.  "Is it inappropriate for me to say, 'Would you guys like to join us for the rest of the set?'" he asked before instructing the call-and-response of "What Makes a Good Man?"  The two female backup singers outshined the crowd on that one, but we gave it our all.  "Same Ol'" utilized the audience yet again, and Kelvin invited a young girl onstage to dance.  "At 10:00 tonight, we've got to go over to the Brooklyn Bowl and play some more," Kelvin announced.  Over "Brukpocket's," he questioned each side of spectators, "Do you like the Heavy?"  Satisfied after a few rounds of escalating cheers, Swaby added, "See how much you like us now," and they charged into "How You Like Me Now?"  Everyone leapt into the air, the Afropunk crowd a raging sea of multicolored bodies.

As Swaby had mentioned, they had to go to Brooklyn Bowl and play some more, so I hopped on the B62 to Williamsburg.  They took the stage later than anticipated, and the two backup vocalists didn't make the trip, but I had no worries.  "Come on, move forward, you fuckers," Swaby encouraged the slim crowd.  The show had only been announced 24 hours prior, and a large number of music fans were still at Commodore Barry Park to find out who the special guest would be (If anyone knows who it was, please comment below.).  Transitioning from the large festival masses to the less-than-packed Brooklyn Bowl, the Heavy decided there was only one way to go: even harder.  The setlist started exactly the same, but Kelvin was even more animated, leaning over the stage's edge to sing directly into fans' faces.  The stage must've been built with straw or sticks 'cause it couldn't hold Swaby, who exploded out into the crowd for "The Big Bad Wolf," holding his mic in the air to catch the howls.  He climbed back onto the platform at the end and took a moment to regain his breath.  A woman in the front requested "Stuck," but Swaby didn't want to jeopardize the momentum he'd created, so "What Makes a Good Man?" followed.  While the backup singers were missed, the crowd was finally participating to Swaby's liking.  "Brooklyn Bowl, who would've thunk it?" he marveled.  "A Lesson Learned" was a nice, stompy deviation from the Afropunk setlist, and then Kelvin polled the audience: "You want slow or fast?"  I may have been the only person voting for slow, as I was hoping for "Curse Me Good," but fast won out with "Just My Luck."  "How You Like Me Now?" closed the show again, and if for some reason it hadn't been obvious earlier: We like the Heavy.  We really, really like you.


Why Even Try / The Law / Need Somebody / Inject Your Soul / Jam* / Do Girls / Jump / Big Spender / Snow Angel / Last Name London > Groove Me / Flying Overseas / Smoke Dancehall* / Rio


Can't Play Dead / What You Want Me to Do? / Sixteen / Cause for Alarm / Short Change Hero / The Big Bad Wolf / What Makes a Good Man? / Same Ol' / Brukpocket's Interlude / How You Like Me Now?

THE HEAVY - 08.24.13 - BROOKLYN BOWL (50 minutes)

Can't Play Dead / What You Want Me to Do? / Sixteen / Cause for Alarm / Short Change Hero / The Big Bad Wolf / Stuck (tease) / What Makes a Good Man? / Same Ol' / A Lesson Learned / Just My Luck / How You Like Me Now?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound Turn Brooklyn Bowl Into a Jungle

Still experiencing tinnitus from the previous night's P-Funk show, I managed to bring myself to hop on the G train to check out JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound at Brooklyn Bowl.  I'm glad I went.  Brooks is one of those charismatic performers that you have trouble taking your eyes off.  Coming from a theatre background, he is an obvious showman, whether acting out his lyrics, engaging the crowd directly, or two-stepping from end to end of the stage.  You'd only look at him if it weren't for percussionist Jeff Galusha, whose enthusiasm was just as captivating, and allowed you to divvy out attention amongst the band.  I guarantee you've never seen a man play triangle so fiercely.

"We're gonna start things off a little different tonight," Brooks announced, as the Uptown Sound chugged into a faster take on Blackstreet's "No Diggity."  The entire room morphed into an all-out dancefloor and stayed that way for the next hour and a half.  Brooks' suit jacket lasted two more songs before he claimed, "It's too hot for this shit," and revealed his suspenders.  Two more songs and they were down, his shirt untucked.  "I Got High" found JC injecting little asides into the lyrics, including a songbird's falsetto "bye bye" after "I can't kiss the pain goodbye."  After a gospel cruise down "River," Ben Taylor stepped in with the bassline to "75 Years of Art Sex," the band cramming in nearly as many years of music history with forays into "Need You Tonight," "Crazy in Love," and "Fever."  For "Baaadnews," Brooks employed the audience on one of the wildest call-and-responses I've heard: jungle noises.  He apologized "Sowwy" to the crowd as he sang "Baltimore is the New Brooklyn," but it went over well considering the location.  The slow-burning "Awake" was dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  JC shared some advice, "I don't expect to find many conservatives in this crowd.  But if you're liberal or conservative, I don't give a fuck.  If you've got questions, err on the side of compassion."  They closed the set with the Neil Young-flavored "Control."

Shortly thereafter, they returned to find the stage drenched in sweat and beer.  "Y'all rowdy as shit. Y'all get the Nets, and think you're somebody," Brooks teased.  "I'm just fuckin' with you," he added.  He played preacher a bit, asking for witnesses before "Everything Will Be Fine."  They wrapped up the evening with what has become their signature song, an R&B version of Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart."  While I didn't really get the punk vibe that some suggest they have (I'd say it's more new wave.), it was an entertaining show.  To find out if Baltimore really is the new Brooklyn, head on down to the Metro Gallery and see JCBUS tonight.

JC BROOKS & THE UPTOWN SOUND - 08.23.13 - BROOKLYN BOWL (1 hour, 30 minutes)

No Diggity / Before You Die / Want More / Rouse Yourself / I Got High / Married for a Week / River / 75 Years of Art Sex > Need You Tonight (tease) > Crazy in Love (tease) > Fever (tease) > 75 Years of Art Sex / Security / Howl / Baaadnews / Baltimore is the New Brooklyn > Ordinary / Not Alone / Awake / Sister Ray Charles > Control

Everything Will Be Fine / I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

Friday, August 23, 2013

George Clinton Shows His Funkadelic Side at Beekman Beer Garden

As I type this, my ears are still ringing like a test for the Emergency Broadcast System.  I tried earplugs for about a minute, but they weren't good to my earholes.  I ripped them out.  I wanted pure funk.  Uncut funk.  The bomb.  Yesterday, George Clinton brought his Parliament-Funkadelic mob back to Beekman Beer Garden, and they fully embraced their acid rock Funkadelic side.  Sure, there were the usual Parliament goodies "Flash Light" and "Give Up the Funk," but last evening, it seemed they were most determined to answer the question, "Who says a funk band can't play rock?"

It all started with "Standing on the Verge of Getting It On."  Gone are the days of Clinton waiting an hour before taking the stage.  He was front and center in seconds, amping up the crowd and tossing in vocal bits of everything from "Pumpin' It Up" to "Dr. Funkenstein" to Chuck Brown's "Bustin' Loose."  After a quick spoken word "We Do This," they roared into "Atomic Dog."  The heavy bass sent a shockwave through my body and up to the corners of my mouth.  A Nick Swardson-looking guy from the crowd jumped onstage and George graciously let him dance.  That is, until he had to make room for the girls.  The fan retreated over to the backup singers, while George and Sir Nose made a dance sandwich with lady filling.  Ricky Rouse stepped forward to rip into a solo, but the partying fans had tripped his cable.  He plugged back in and played with his teeth.  During "Flash Light," as Sir Nose climbed up the wobbly speaker cabinets, I noticed a look of pure concern on George's face.  It quickly turned to relief when Nose made it up safely, contorting his freshly-funked body into an O.  They transitioned directly into "(Not Just) Knee Deep," taking a "Sentimental Journey" in its center.  The best part of the trip took place as Rouse and Michael Hampton came to the edge of the stage and swirled out complementary solos as the rhythm section dove back into "Knee Deep" behind them.
"How y'all doin' out there?" George quizzed the crowd.  Applause.  "Good 'cause y'all gonna be here all night long."  The band started an uncharacteristically chill jam, and Clinton introduced Mary Griffin, who took on Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy."  By its end, she was shrieking so loudly it was splitting eardrums, and George reined her in a little by accompanying with his gruff voice.  Griffin and Clinton left the stage for... a mid-set "Maggot Brain?"  This was a Funkadelic show.  After the odyssey, Garrett Shider took the mic and united us on a bluesy "One Nation Under a Groove" that found its way in and out of "Cholly."  "Give Up the Funk" ignited the crowd to keep them burning through a "Thumpasorus" medley that delved into quickly into "Up for the Down Stroke" and healthily into Kendra Foster's "Bounce 2 This."  George waved goodbye to the sweaty spectators as Funkadelic revved up a fiery "Red Hot Mama."
It seemed like that was going to be it.  Members had begun packing up their instruments.  The crew was giving "finish it up" hand signals.  But ain't no party like a P-Funk party 'cause a P-Funk party don't stop.  "All aboard the night train!" yelled Michael "Clip" Payne, conducting the remaining musicians onstage, a side project known as the 420 Funk Mob.  "Nothing Before Me But Thang" took on a heady liquid groove as Greg Thomas skimmed the surface with his saxophone.  Then keyboardist Jerome Rodgers stepped in, his staccato notes injecting a chilliness that turned the jam into the march of an army of ice creatures.  Such a gutsy way to end the show.  But it wasn't over yet.  Michael Hampton didn't want to leave.  With a wide smile on his face, he jumped on the mic and started singing "If Anybody Gets Funked Up."  He's not a good singer, but he's Kidd Funkadelic.  Someone had to join him.  As Richie Nagan continued to shake his maracas, Clip took a seat at the kit to finish it out.  It was a weird ending to the concert, but a beautiful example of the pure joy a musician can get from performing.

You never know what you're gonna get at a P-Funk show, all the way down to the band itself.  As the decades go by, members depart for solo gigs, new ones are accrued, and sadly, some pass away to that funky place in the sky.  Though they have a 45-year blueprint, this overturn means the music is constantly evolving, making each concert a truly unique experience.  Which is why I'll keep going to P-Funk shows, eardrums be damned.


Standing on the Verge of Getting It On > Good to Your Earhole (tease) > Pumpin' It Up (tease) > Bustin' Loose (tease) > Standing on the Verge of Getting It On > Get Off Your Ass & Jam (tease) > P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up) (tease) > Dr. Funkenstein (tease) / We Do This / Atomic Dog / Flash Light > (Not Just) Knee Deep > Sentimental Journey > (Not Just) Knee Deep > Rubber Duckie (tease) / Crazy (feat. Mary Griffin) / Maggot Brain / One Nation Under a Groove > Cholly (Funk Get Ready to Roll!) > One Nation Under a Groove / Uncle Jam (tease) > Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker) > Bootzilla (tease) > Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples > Up for the Down Stroke (tease) > The Roof is on Fire (tease) > 
Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples > Bounce 2 This > Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples / Red Hot Mama / Nothing Before Me But Thang / If Anybody Gets Funked Up (It's Gonna Be You) > Cholly (Funk Get Ready to Roll!)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Goldspot Unveils Deeply Personal Songs at Rockwood Music Hall

Last night at Rockwood Music Hall, Goldspot celebrated the release of their third album, Aerogramme.  It's Siddhartha Khosla's most personal record yet, drawing from childhood summers spent in India, the love for his wife during tough times, and the unsent letters of his father, who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s.  Occasionally when artists stock their set heavily with new tunes, the audience can become estranged.  Goldspot played eight numbers from the new LP, and the momentum never faltered, a testament to the strength of the songs and the band's stage presence.

Khosla started the night on bouzouki for the album's opening track "Abyss."  Keeping with the theme of turning back the clock, they followed with "Rewind," enlisting the string talents of violinist Rachel Golub.  Sidd thanked everyone for attending, and began a story: "When my parents came to this country in the late '70s, they came with $8 in their pockets.  My mother was pregnant, and a year later, they had me."  A voice from the crowd.  It was Sidd's mother.  "She just said 9 months," he said with a laugh.  "Weren't you 3 months pregnant when you left India?"  The debate over his gestation period became too humorous for the seriousness of the tale, so he abandoned it for "The Border Line."  (To hear Sidd tell the rest of the story, you'll have to tune in to The Next Round podcast, coming in the next few weeks.)

Sidd may have been raised on the records of Bollywood playback singers, who leant their vocals for actors to lip-sync to, but it's clear he also belongs in the spotlight.  He gave it his all on every lyric, even singing along off-mic to the trombone part on "New Haven Green" when there weren't lyrics to sing.  Well-versed in several instruments, he moved with ease from Omnichord to Lahore harmonium to acoustic guitar.  After the lively "Monkey on My Rooftop," a chronicle of the endless battle of his aunt with a monkey, Sidd disclosed, "
And then there was that time I was 8 and I found my mother's green card," diving right into the bouncy "Resident Alien."  It was simultaneously funny and poignant, and I realized that if you like the interesting world instrumentation of Vampire Weekend, but find them lacking in the human element, Goldspot is a better alternative.
After a few more songs, including older tunes "Call Center Girl" and "Friday," Khosla announced, "We've got one more." "Five more!" yelled a crowdmember.  While I also wouldn't have objected to five more, Sidd chose his favorite song on the album, "Evergreen Cassette."  He explained that when he was two, his parents were unable to find an affordable babysitter and had to send him back to India.  With no Skype technology, and phone calls to India costing $24/minute, his mother would record greetings and lullabies on a cassette tape and mail it to him.  He'd then record whatever a 2-year-old would say onto the tape and post it back.  They continued the process for two more years, until his parents had saved enough money for him to rejoin them.  Try finding something that touching on a Vampire Weekend record.

GOLDSPOT - 08.21.13 - ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL (54 minutes)

Abyss / Rewind / The Border Line / New Haven Green / Monkey on My Rooftop / Resident Alien / Call Center Girl / Salt of the Earth / If the Hudson Overflows / Friday / Evergreen Cassette

Monday, August 19, 2013

Broken Anchor Serves Up "Fresh Lemonade"

Pretty much anyone can make lemonade. It only has three ingredients: sugar, water, and lemon juice. Its simplicity and low production cost make it the commodity of choice for budding sidewalk entrepreneurs like the one featured on the cover of Broken Anchor's debut album, Fresh Lemonade, out 9/17.  When it's good, there are few things more refreshing than a tall, cold glass. But there's also a lot of shitty lemonade: too sweet, too sour, too artificial.  Austin Hartley-Leonard and his collaborators aren't drastically altering the recipe for indie rock music; they're just using better ingredients.  You won't find quality songwriting like this in the freezer section.  The first thing you'll notice is Hartley-Leonard's crackling voice.  It's at once unique and familiar, capable of both soaring to anthemic heights on "Always" or brooding gravely in "Head is a Hole."  While their sound draws heavily from the Pacific Northwest, the SoCal roots shine through unabashedly on the '60s reverb-drenched "Canada."  I dare you to listen to it once without smiling. Then I dare you to listen again without singing along.  My only gripe is that six of the songs were previously released on a handful of 2012 EPs. Thankfully, they are nowhere near filler, and come across more like greatest hits.  So don't judge it by its cover and let the toddler with his middle finger up deter you; you'll miss out on one of the year's best releases.

I interviewed Austin for The Next Round podcast, which will be up as soon as I slash through all the feed-hosting red tape.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hellogoodbye Announces Album Release Date in a Backyard in Brooklyn

It was a gorgeous day in New York City.  I started mine by going to Summer Streets to experience Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's insanely disappointing Voice Tunnel, but thankfully, it only got better from there.  After savoring a concrete from Shake Shack, I headed back to Brooklyn to see a concert in the backyard of Moscot Gallery.  At first, the boutique eyeglasses shop seemed an odd place for a show, but it was somehow the perfect fit for Forrest Kline, the bespectacled frontman of Hellogoodbye.  "Hi. How are you guys?" Kline asked the fans, packed tightly in the pebbly space, slightly larger than my bedroom.  "I've got a setlist in my phone... kind of," he said, and then started strumming "Getting Old" on his acoustic guitar.  Either the crowd was just extremely polite, or the intimacy of the close quarters forced them to be.  I saw some lips moving, but the only voice I heard was Kline's ringing sweetly through the PA.  Forrest even found it intimate enough to share some "deep, dark secrets," like that he allows his dog to eat his nail clippings.

The third Hellogoodbye record has been cryptically advertised as a "Fall 2013" release, but Kline finally confirmed it for October 29th.  His excitement for the new songs was palpable, smiles sneaking out to fill the spaces between lyrics on "The Magic Hour is Now" and "Everything Becomes a Blur."  After a fun "Finding Something to Do," which saw him supplying the "oh oh oh" backup vocals himself, he moved on to a cover of "My Favorite Things."  When he reached a line about "freshly baked pizzas," it became clear he was adapting it to include his actual faves.  "I made that one my own.  I think that's a good songwriting exercise you could do with your child, to have them rewrite that song.  Someone should blog or Pinterest that.  I'll wait while you pin it," he joked, plugging in his Gibson hollowbody for another new tune, which I'll refer to as "Arbitrary Line Dance."  It shared quite a bit of notes with Band of Horses' "The Funeral," but the lyrics were 100% Forrest.  "I thought it'd be nice if something existed here that doesn't exist anywhere else," he said, offering up "It's Never Gonna Stop," a work-in-progress performed exclusively for the backyard audience.  When he announced that he was doing one more song, you could feel everyone in the crowd hoping it was a bluff.  He chose "When We First Met," which is my favorite, so I couldn't complain.  Every Hellogoodbye show seems to end too soon.  Leave them wanting more, I suppose.  It worked.  I want that new LP.

HELLOGOODBYE - 08.17.13 - MOSCOT GALLERY (28 minutes, 30 seconds)

Getting Old / The Magic Hour is Now* / Everything Becomes a Blur* / Finding Something to Do / My Favorite Things / Arbitrary Line Dance* / It's Never Gonna Stop* / When We First Met

Friday, August 16, 2013

Huey Lewis & the News Celebrate "Sports" at Coney Island

"New York, New York, is everything they say / And no place that I'd rather be."  That's the first line of "The Heart of Rock & Roll," which opens Huey Lewis & the News' 1983 album, Sports.  It was also the perfect choice to open the band's concert at Coney Island last night.  Touring in honor of the 30th anniversary of that #1 LP, Huey & the News began by blazing their way through the first four tracks of soul-infused pop, culminating in "I Want a New Drug."  "Thirty years is a long time. Think about it. Thirty years ago. No Internet. No cellphones. No CDs. No real personal computers. No back pain. Those were the days," Huey reminisced.  "Now we're gonna turn the record over. 'Cause that's what we did, kids," he laughed.  "And we're gonna rock a little harder on side B," he warned, starting up a one-two punch of "Walking on a Thin Line" and "Finally Found a Home."  The sound mix was the first tolerable one I've heard in the Seaside Summer Series, especially impressive considering there were nine musicians onstage.  Huey was quite the humble frontman, turning his back to the crowd while his bandmates soloed, so the focus wouldn't be on him.  And he sounded exactly the same as he did thirty years ago, save for the title lyric of "If This is It," which he swallowed a little.  After the rollicking "Honky Tonk Blues," Lewis announced, "So that was it. Sports. Forty-two minutes of American music. Now what?"

They chose a new number, "While We're Young."  Props to Lewis for inserting a fresh one into the hit parade, and a good one at that.  With the song moving along at an almost rocksteady riddim, Huey sang the smooth chorus, peppering in some impassioned yelps and howls.  Then they went back in time to their debut record, pulling out "Trouble in Paradise."  Huey modified the song's lyric "Down at the brothers in the parking lot" to "Down in Coney Island in a parking lot," eliciting cheers from the crowd.  While Lewis has been known to adapt this line to the city he's in, the fact that we were in an actual parking lot made it just that much sweeter.  During "(She's) Some Kind of Wonderful," I noticed that the real party seemed to be happening out on the boardwalk, where a horde of dancing fans watched through the chain-link fence.  Looking back towards the stage, I noticed everyone inside the fence was also grooving out of their seats.  That is, everyone except for those who brought their own.  I guess if you're gonna lug your chair on the subway and down the street, you're damn well gonna sit in it.  Halfway through the upbeat "But It's Alright," a girl walked onstage, carrying a xylophone.  As she held it out for him, Huey plinked out a sprightly solo to roars from the audience.  The band capitalized on the energy and segued directly into "We're Not Here for a Long Time (We're Here for a Good Time)" to finish the set.

Hopefully we wouldn't have another Smokey Robinson situation on our clapping hands.  Two minutes later, they returned.  "Oh, alright. If you insist," teased Huey.  "We've had a lot of requests. So many hits, so little time."  Prefacing it, "Who knew that when we wrote this song that we'd have to play it every night of our lives?" they launched into "The Power of Love."  This was my favorite song when I was six, so needless to say, it was great.  "Do You Believe in Love" didn't necessarily strike me as an encore-worthy follow-up, but the News nailed the backup vocals, so I didn't complain.  After that, Bill Gibson started a rumbling drum solo, and Huey stepped in with a train engine blast on his harmonica to kick off the blue-collar anthem "Workin' for a Livin'."  The crowd clapped along energetically, and after introducing the band members, Huey shouted, "Once again, you just heard the Neeewwws!" before the song's final notes.

So little time, indeed.  When you have to play an album in its entirely, I suppose you have to make sacrifices.  But I think maybe Patrick Bateman said it best:  "Do you like Huey Lewis & the News? Their early work was a little too 'new-wave' for my taste, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, both commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He's been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor. In '86, Huey released this, Fore!, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is 'Hip to Be Square,' a song so catchy most people probably don't listen to the lyrics, but they should! Because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself!"  Even still, there was no place that I'd rather be.


The Heart of Rock & Roll / Heart & Soul / Bad is Bad / I Want a New Drug / Walking on a Thin Line > Finally Found a Home / If This is It / You Crack Me Up / Honky Tonk Blues / While We're Young / Trouble in Paradise / (She's) Some Kind of Wonderful / But It's Alright > We're Not Here for a Long Time (We're Here for a Good Time)

The Power of Love / Do You Believe in Love / Workin' for a Livin'

Monday, August 12, 2013

Shuggie Otis Slurs His Way Through Summerstage

Those who saw Shuggie Otis hammer out a dazzling solo at Metrotech Commons on Thursday would have been surprised to see him at Rumsey Playfield yesterday... hammered.  To think that some people at Summerstage who hadn't yet seen him now believe that he's some washed-up alcoholic is sad, considering the brilliance displayed just three days before.

Before I ramble too much (like Shuggie did), let me commend opener, José James.  There's a small, white patch of hair in the center of James' scalp, likely a birthmark of some sort, as he's only 35.  It serves as an emblem of the old soul living inside him, the one with the classy, baritone voice.  His music exists somewhere near the crossroads of jazz and R&B, just around the corner from the Roots.  In fact, listening to Nate Smith's breakbeats combined with Kris Bowers' Fender Rhodes, it was easy to imagine Black Thought stepping in and dropping a conscious verse or two.  After crooning the sultry "It's All Over Your Body," James grabbed an acoustic guitar for "Sword & Gun."  Takuya Kuroda sparked up a jazzy trumpet solo that cued some crowd members to spark up their bud.  James questioned an audience member in the front about his t-shirt that read, "New Designer Drugs."  "It's for you!" offered the guy.  "I'm from the D.A.R.E. generation.  Me and McGruff the Crime Dog, we go way back," quipped James with a chuckle.  The set progressed as No Beginning No End does, with "Trouble" and "Vanguard," before taking a detour with a Bill Withers medley as the sun broke through the canopy of clouds.  After a round of "Ain't No Sunshine," Bowers took the reigns on a Rhodes solo, sneaking in a taste of "Use Me" before tossing it back to James for "Grandma's Hands" and the "No Sunshine" bookend.  The sun disappeared again, James remarking, "How's the sun gonna come out only for that song?"  Bassist Solomon Dorsey supplied some excellent vocal harmonies on "Come to My Door," probably my favorite of the songs.  They followed it with a brand new one, "Anywhere You Go."  Joined by some hipster on electric guitar, James showed off yet another side on the pop/rock song, though the guitar-playing was entirely too pedestrian to add anything to his lavish voice.  "This is that beautiful Sunday late-afternoon song going out to Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin," he said before closer, "Do You Feel."  Not three lines into the song, he called out to the bleachers, "I see you makin' babies back there."  Each musician took a relaxed solo during the slow jam, coming together at the end for a collective bow.

I usually start recording set times when the first note is played.  You can add another 6 or 7 minutes onto Otis' set for the time he spent talking when he took the stage.  Smacking on gum and slurring his words a little, Shuggie cheerily introduced each member of the band.  
"We came here for a reason, and I'm gonna run my mouth for about another 30 minutes," he said with a laugh.  Disapproving looks from every bandmate aside from saxophonist Albert Wing, who doesn't look like he'd be able to frown.  When Larry Douglas attempted to get Otis' attention, Shuggie interjected, "I forgot to tell two members of my band to shut the fuck up when I'm talking."  A helicopter hovered overhead for a second, and Otis turned his focus to the sky: "I'll be through in a minute. Get lost!"  Introducing his guitar tech by the wrong name, "Paul Young," Otis then corrected himself, "Paul Lamb. Well, he's young."  Drink a little before the gig, Shuggie?

Eventually, they finally kicked into "Inspiration Information."  Immediately after it ended, Shuggie was at it again.  "I wrote 'Strawberry Letter 23' for someone to cover it. And they did, six years later," he said.  "I still like my version the best," he taunted in a silly voice.  Before Shuggie could go any further, Nick clacked his sticks together to start "Tryin' to Get Close to You."  After "Aht Uh Mi Hed," you could tell by his face that Swang was getting restless.  "I got about 20 more minutes of a dialogue," claimed Shuggie.  "Do you want me to have fun, or do you want me to leave the stage? I'll leave the stage in a hot second," he threatened, though it wasn't clear if he was directing it to his bandmates or the dissipating crowd.  The lowpoint of the set came next.  I'm only identifying it as "Island Letter" based off its position in the setlist, but it bore little resemblance to the undulant guitar tune I heard on Thursday.  After mumbling his way through the song, he tried to find the guitar part, and only managed a bit of the cascading solo found at the end of "Strawberry Letter 23."  "This next song is called 'Me & My Woman.' Woman, shut up!" he yelled.  No idea who he was talking to, but he was tickled.  When it came time for "Miss Pretty," I don't know why, but I still had hope for some Metrotech magic.  Alas, his left hand spent most of its time where the neck meets the body, typical guitar solo stuff, not the staggering genius from three days prior.  At least the funky number gave Swang a chance to work out some frustration on his Electro 3.  As the show went on, Shuggie sang further and further away from his microphone, more likely obliviousness than self-censorship.  Introducing "Strawberry Letter 23," Shuggie marveled, "What a name for a song. But it makes sense. I finally found out what it means, but I ain't gonna tell you."  Thankfully, by this point, he was starting to sober up a little, but there was only one song left, "Ice Cold Daydream."  Even Larry Douglas' rabble-rousing shouts of "Ladies and gentlemen, Shuggie Otis!" seemed less enthusiastic, leaving James Manning to clean up the mess with an awe-inspiring bass solo.  See Shuggie as early in the day as you can, I guess.

JOSÉ JAMES - 08.11.13 - RUMSEY PLAYFIELD (1 hour, 3 minutes)

It's All Over Your Body / Sword & Gun / Trouble / Vanguard / Ain't No Sunshine > Use Me (tease) > Grandma's Hands > Ain't No Sunshine / Come to My Door / Anywhere You Go / Do You Feel

SHUGGIE OTIS - 08.11.13 - RUMSEY PLAYFIELD (1 hour, 21 minutes)

Inspiration Information / Tryin' to Get Close to You / Aht Uh Mi Hed / Island Letter / Me & My Woman / Sparkle City > Miss Pretty / Sweetest Thang / Wings of Love / Doin' What's Right / Strawberry Letter 23 / Ice Cold Daydream

Sunday, August 11, 2013

They Might Be Giants Treat Brooklyn to Their Best Show in Years

"It will be the greatest night of all time!" tweeted They Might Be Giants yesterday before their Celebrate Brooklyn concert in Prospect Park.  Even with setting expectations the highest they could possibly be, They indubitably brought their A-game.  Shaking up the setlist and digging deep into their back catalog, TMBG unleashed the best show I've seen from them since 2005.  Maybe even 2004.

When I got to the venue, the standing room in front of the stage was sparsely populated.  That all changed as soon as Wenzl McGowen blew his saxophone up through a long construction cone in "Tubes."  People poured into the area to watch Moon Hooch, toddlers dancing on their shoulders.  Over the course of 32 non-stop minutes, the trio took the crowd on a journey deeper and deeper into their cave.  The theatrics of saxmen McGowen and Mike Wilbur kept the audience attentive, whether miming a tug-o-war in "Number 2" or McGowen deploying a goose honk at the front rows in "Number 9."  Following the set, Wenzl got emotional as he admitted that sitting in the Bandshell crowd four years ago, he thought to himself, "Damn, I gotta play this stage at some point in my life."  He added, "It's always funny that the universe provides."  Some fans wanted them to continue providing, starting a substantial chorus of "One more song!" but the show was already running behind.

As the lights went down for the main event, the mangled Sammy Davis, Jr. intro music played, and Dan Miller entered alone.  He picked up his electric guitar and started cranking out the riff to "You're on Fire."  He kept plugging away until the other members ran out to join him, John Linnell sporting a new haircut.  Taking stock of the crowd, Linnell offered, "Beautiful spread."  "This is the nicest brownstone I've ever been to," confirmed John Flansburgh.  "Withered Hope," came next, assisted by the Tricerachops Horns, who would accompany on ten numbers throughout the night.  Prior to "Nanobots," the Johns did a bit with JF speaking through his robot mic.  "What have you been doing in August?" Robot-Flans questioned Linnell.  "I've been lying on the floor with a damp cloth over my forehead," JL responded.  "It's funny because I know that," he said, breaking character to laugh.  Explaining how he'd taken a part-time job with NSA, Flans continued, "I've been reading your instant messages.  Like this morning: 'Adjusted the damp cloth on my forehead.'"  The horns were dismissed for "Damn Good Times," which benefited from a nice Dan Miller solo.  For "Icky," Miller played the melodica, a fitting instrument for the song, as Flans revealed its tube may have been confiscated by the health department.

When the band eased into "New York City" for their seventh song, I knew this show was different.  The tune is usually reserved for encores, especially when performed in NYC.  And then the band made one of the most inspired segues I've seen, injecting into its finale the crashing chords of "Ana Ng," effectively reacquainting NYC with its '64 World's Fair.  The Tricerachops Horns returned for another typical late-set tune, "When Will You Die," and it was interesting to watch parents dancing with their children in the aisles to such morbid lyrics.  The horns departed once more, and Flansburgh shared some advice from his father: "Whenever you're performing in front of 10 to 13,000 people, do not play a new song."  In defiance of his dad, Flansy unveiled a new, rocking version of "Black Ops" with JL on bass clarinet.  Linnell held onto the instrument for another Flansburgh-sung tune, "Cloisonné."  At its end, Flans led a crowd chant of "Bass clarinet!" that began to pick up steam.  Linnell attempted his own refrain of "The cheese stands alone!" but it didn't take.  While "The Mesopotamians" is far from my favorite TMBG song, I found myself singing along as I marveled at the lights, which were on point the entire show.  Dedicated to all the apartment-dwellers, "We Live in a Dump" followed, my first time seeing it live.  And then "Don't Let's Start?"  Damn, They were not messing around.

Then They surprised us all with the performance of the night.  Stripping themselves down to the original duo, the Johns took on "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)."  Having grown so accustomed to the show-closing full-bander with elongated Dan Miller acoustic intro, it was incredibly refreshing to hear it this way.  The song morphed into a comedy sketch as Flans whimpered to be taken back to Constantinople, each request of "Please?" or "Once?" met with a tugboat's "Noooooo" from Linnell.  The crowd howled with laughter at every refusal.  After that, They could've just coasted for the show's remainder, but They took no prisoners, dropping "Lost My Mind," "Puppet Head," "Doctor Worm," and super-rarity "I'll Sink Manhattan."  After a horn-speckled "Call You Mom," Flans announced that the band would be playing their debut album in full at Terminal 5 in November.  "We've been working in conjunction with NASA to come up with a special ticket code," he said, attesting that it could be found in the Perseid meteor shower.  (I won't share the code here because I'm going to try to buy tickets at the venue when they go on sale.  I can't stand service fees.  Flansburgh shared his feelings on the modern ticketing mechanism as well: "It's like a shitstorm from outer space.")  "We've got one more song.  It's from our second album, and it's called 'Mr. Me,'" said JF.  And then They launched into "Hey, Mr. DJ."  Had I heard him incorrectly?  No matter; I took the trade-up.

Marty Beller returned to take a seat at his drumkit to rev up the clap-happy "123 Band Intro," which saw Danny Weinkauf playing his bass with a drumstick.  The sleepy "Tesla" seemed out of place for the encore, but after such an energetic set, I understood.  Flansburgh upheld my suspicion, and admitted he flubbed the "Mr. DJ" thing.  So They invited the horns back out, and performed "Mr. Me" as a "special dedication to all the people who got their hopes up."  After such a spectacular run of songs, truth be told, I'd forgotten about "Birdhouse."  Then They played it, in all its glory, bringing the concert to its triumphant conclusion.

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS - 08.10.13 - PROSPECT PARK BANDSHELL (1 hour, 35 minutes)

You're on Fire / Withered Hope / The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) / Nanobots / Damn Good Times / Icky / New York City > Ana Ng / When Will You Die / Black Ops / Cloisonné / The Mesopotamians / We Live in a Dump / Don't Let's Start / Istanbul (Not Constantinople) / Lost My Mind / Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head / Doctor Worm / I'll Sink Manhattan / Call You Mom / Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal

123 Band Intro / Tesla / Mr. Me / Birdhouse in Your Soul

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Shuggie Otis Returns to Brooklyn with a Solo for the Books

Shuggie Otis played at Music Hall of Williamsburg back in April, and he has confirmed that concert will be released as a live album. After today's gig in the Metrotech Commons, perhaps he should rethink his decision.

It was challenging to find a good sightline through the jumble of tree trunks in the plaza, but I managed to grab a chair where I could clearly spot Shuggie looking cool in his blazer, shades, and white pants, all topped off with a hat. I was worried I'd have to wait for Shuggie to remove his hat for things to really get cookin' like they did at MHOW, but he didn't take it off and I didn't have to wait. After a so-so "Inspiration Information," James Manning threw down a dank bassline for "Tryin' to Get Close to You" that had my head bobbing for the whole song. Following "Aht Uh Mi Hed," "Me & My Woman" gave Shuggie a chance to work out his blues through his Gibson SG. Beginning with an extended jam, "Sparkle City" progressed until Swang Stewart encouraged the audience to clap as he segued into the keyboard-led groove of "Miss Pretty." And then the magic happened. Starting his solo with a series of blues licks, Otis then turned his attention to his pedals, churning out tsunamis of feedback. As Shuggie began to shred up and down the guitar's neck, he snuck in chunks of feedback over the band's "Cosmic Slop"-reminiscent rhythm. The crowd clapped with vigor at its end, easily the best guitar solo I've heard since Gary Clark, Jr.'s scratchfest in Memphis.

In Williamsburg, Otis had used the meandering "Sweetest Thang" to show off his own blues riffs, but having already melted our faces, he let the horn section take their turns soloing. Having played nearly fifty minutes, Otis announced "Doin' What's Right" as his final song. Of course, the Latin funk number wasn't his last, as he had to play "Strawberry Letter 23." "Sing it, Brooklyn!" shouted Swang, leading the crowd on the "ooh ooh ooh"s as Shuggie chopped at the beat with his six-string. "We're gonna do one more," announced Shuggie. But they didn't kick into it right away due to a "technical issue." Otis made small talk while we waited: "Never played outdoors in New York before, you know?" He took the time to reintroduce the band, which included his brothers, Jon on percussion and Nick on drums. "My record comes out in 2014 on my label, Shugetirius Records. Go out there and steal it," he laughed. He suddenly became more serious: "We need a miracle right now." Evidently, something had happened to James Manning's arm, so soundman Paul Lamb stepped in to replace him for "Ice Cold Daydream." The crowd moved forward to dance in front of the stage and get a closer look at Shuggie wailing on another monster solo. At some point, Manning returned, reclaiming his bass to jam long after Shuggie left the stage. Shuggie plays his second outdoor NY show at Central Park Summerstage on Sunday. You'd be "aht uh ur hed" not to go.

SHUGGIE OTIS - 08.08.13 - METROTECH COMMONS (1 hour, 23 minutes)

Inspiration Information / Tryin' to Get Close to You / Aht Uh Mi Hed / Me & My Woman / Island Letter / Sparkle City > Miss Pretty / Sweetest Thang / Picture of Love / Wings of Love / Doin' What's Right / Strawberry Letter 23 / Ice Cold Daydream