Friday, February 28, 2014

The Wood Brothers & Chris Kasper Captivate the Folk Out of Irving Plaza

If you're a folk fan who lives in New York and you weren't at Irving Plaza last night, you fucked up.  Chris Kasper welcomed the audience in with his metaphor-soaked lyrics set to simple acoustic accompaniment, and the Wood Brothers brought the house down with their jazzy twist on American folk music. 

Fortunately I was able to catch Kasper's soundcheck, where he tested the levels on six tunes, including a pair that didn't make it into the night's proceedings: "When the Mountains Cry" and a cover of "When I Paint My Masterpiece."  With the mix to his liking, Chris and I dashed around the corner to Little Town to tape an episode of The Next Round, where we chatted about everything from burgers to magnets.  Make sure to look out for that.

"It's a thrill to be here on this legendary stage," revealed Kasper at the start of his set.  "Most of all, it's a thrill to have some people out there," he laughed, and dipped into "Ancient - Lo."  He was joined on violin by Kiley Ryan, who added just the right touches to the songs, from eerie wails on "Raven & the Rose" to antique washes of warmth on "Don't Want to Lose Your Way."  In addition to playing together on his most recent album Bagabones, Kasper and Ryan released a record as a duo under the name Foxhound, so they offered up that group's "Bask in the Light."  Prior to trucker-anthem "Belly," Chris announced, "I'mma sing it through my walkie-talkie here," motioning to his bullet microphone.  It gave his vocals the befitting quality of a CB radio, while Kiley supplied her own seductive backup vox and tambourine hits.  Chris went solo for "Blessed Little Secrets," an incredibly well-written love song about more than just ice cream and thrift stores, but also those too.  Kiley returned for Springsteen's "State Trooper," performed in honor of the turnpike they took to get to NYC, and her fiddling at the end of "Oh, Carolina" was absolutely hypnotic.

Halfway through the set break, Chris Wood appeared to drop the needle on a Little Walter LP, spinning on a small turntable atop a cabinet of unfinished wood.  With beams of light peeking through the slats, the stage was set for the trio to enchant.  The Brothers took their positions, Chris stopped the record player, and Jano Rix breathed some spooky notes into his melodica.  Oliver chopped gently at his guitar and began singing, "I see the backbone of a thin man."  And then Chris hit the crowd with that big double bass sound.  "Neon Tombstone" was the perfect choice for an opener, allowing the crowd to observe the parts as they tallied up to their glorious sum.  With his long blond tresses, Oliver gave off the appearance of a 
lovable, floppy-eared dog.  Although he kept his eyes closed most of the time, you could tell he was fully aware there was a crowd in front of him when he'd dig into his guitar, biting his lower lip with a shit-eating grin on his face.  After "Wastin' My Mind," Chris dropped in a bopping bass solo, which allowed Rix the time to migrate to the center of the stage with his "shuitar" (Say it out loud.), a busted guitar outfitted with finger cymbals, tuna cans, and other junk to transform it into a percussive instrument.  They decided to "Sing About It," and did so in wondrous harmony.  They followed with "The Muse," not ashamed to load the set with numbers from their latest LP.  "We got your cards and letters.  We're gonna get to all of that stuff," remarked Oliver.
And they did.  "When I Was Young" shined, featuring not one, but two bass solos from Chris.  "Postcards from Hell" was specifically dedicated to music lovers.  "There's a big difference between music lovers and music likers," Oliver delineated, explaining that lovers are either musicians or concertgoers who really pay attention and experience it, not those "in the back tweeting, texting, and twerking."  A didgeridoo-ish bass solo linked "Twisted" with a spunky "Who the Devil" that had the crowd roaring for more.  The Brothers decided to shift the energy a bit, inviting Kasper and Ryan to the stage to sing with them around a center microphone.  Oliver warned the audience that the mic was very sensitive, adding, "It's only Thursday. Let's just chill out for a minute."  The five sang the traditional "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" with fiddle accents from Kiley.  Foxhound departed and the trio turned out a mesmerizing one-mic "Firewater."  Chris took lead vocals on "Losin' Streak" and even inserted the riff from "Low Rider" into his harmonica part.  "Honey Jar" was a fun one, its Meters-style strut giving way to a chorus as sticky as the title.  Anyone who follows the Wood Brothers knows that angels are a recurring theme, and they delivered a medley beginning with the soft "That's What Angels Can Do" before blossoming into the exuberant "Angel."  They wrapped up the triumphant set with a singalong of "Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor."

Of course, that wasn't the end.  Once he'd reclaimed the stage, Chris expressed his distaste for categorizing music by genre: "People say we're Americana, whatever that means."  Readying his upright, he continued, "Here's a song that's as American as any," and they launched into Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)."  Chris finally released his bass for "One More Day," wiggling excitedly around the stage.  In the rest before the song's last note, 
Oliver yelped, "Weeeee!  God dang it, this is fun!"  For all parties involved.  However, I did really want to hear "I Got Loaded."  I'll send a card next time.



When the Mountains Cry / Where Did You Sleep Last Night / State Trooper / Ancient - Lo / State Trooper / When I Paint My Masterpiece / Oh, Carolina

SET (40 minutes) -
Ancient - Lo / Raven & the Rose / Don't Want to Lose Your Way / Bask in the Light / Belly / Blessed Little Secrets / State Trooper / Oh, Carolina / The Waterline

THE WOOD BROTHERS - 02.27.14 - IRVING PLAZA (1 hour, 41 minutes)

Neon Tombstone / Wastin' My Mind / Bass Solo / Sing About It / The Muse / When I Was Young / Fall Too Fast / Postcards from Hell / Twisted > Who the Devil / Where Did You Sleep Last Night (feat. Foxhound) / Firewater / Luckiest Man / Losin' Streak > Low Rider (tease) > Losin' Streak / Honey Jar / That's What Angels Can Do > Angel / Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor

P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) / One More Day

Friday, February 21, 2014

Glasvegas Build Their Wall of Sound in Williamsburg

"We are the Ceremonies.  Welcome to our ceremony."  With an intro like that and Matthew Cook's Robert Smith-y coiffure, I wanted to hate the L.A. band so badly.  But I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  You see, Matthew is not the band's only singer.  He shared the stage with his younger twin brothers, Mark and Michael, and the three harmonized as only brothers can.  While the doo wop stylings of "Straw Hat" succeeded more than the falsetto "Ballroom Bones," the brothers' vocals and constant instrument-swapping were winsome enough to not immediately write them off as a Depeche Mode tribute act.  I'm not running out to buy their EP or anything, but if I were casting an '80s college movie, they'd be a shoe-in for the band at the frat party.

I was there to see Glasvegas anyway.  Although their Phil Spector-meets-darkwave sound is capable of filling arenas, I was convinced there would be no better venue for it than the tiny 200-capacity Knitting Factory Brooklyn.  The melodic wall of noise began with the title track from their most recent LP, Later... When the TV Turns to Static, and didn't let up for over an hour.  Cloaked in darkness, the band was only lit with a few backlights, save for the occasional strobe illuminating the wrinkled sheet of a backdrop.  "
It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry" was an early standout, with Jonna Löfrgen pummeling away on her drumkit without a stool in sight.  Ghostly figures spun in a waltz on the screen behind them, and James Allan set aside his thick brogue for a significant portion of the song to allow the crowd to sing the words.  And we pretty much nailed it.  Once the generous applause had a chance to dissipate, Allan revealed the origins of "Lonesome Swan."  Before he'd started Glasvegas, every day he'd walk by the water, where customers would rent pedal boats.  Well, except for the one shaped like a swan.  Eventually he felt so sorry for it that he took it for an embarrassing ride of his own.

The guitar tones in "If" and "Secret Truth" exemplified the slightly more hopeful outlook found on the new record, while Löfrgen's skilled cymbalwork shined in "The World is Yours."  James took some time in between tunes to nag on bassist Paul Donoghue for being "unprofessional."  Mocking Paul's inability to read the setlist in the dark, James badgered, "What song's next?"  The audience seized the opportunity to shout requests.  "No, I wasn't asking you," clarified Allan with a smirk.  Not that anyone had reason to complain, with classic tracks from their 2008 debut comprising half of the show.  Unfortunately, "Geraldine" was too rushed, but they made up for it with the slow burn of "Ice Cream Van," Jonna going ballistic on the soaring denouement.  "Ice Cream" melted into "Go Square Go," and the entire room was chanting the anti-bullying rally by its end, when the band departed in a shower of feedback.

We cheered non-stop for a minute and a half before James Allan returned for a solo "Flowers & Football Tops."  Unlike the father in the song, the other members returned for "Daddy's Gone," Allan's cousin Rab providing the wishfully sunny backup vocals.  Building steadily into an impassioned frenzy of James' shouts, "Lots Sometimes" wrapped up my favorite show of the year... so far.


Wolfdance / Nightlight / Straw Hat / Ballroom Bones / Backbone Shakes* / Land of Gathering 

GLASVEGAS - 02.20.14 - KNITTING FACTORY BROOKLYN (1 hour, 14 minutes)

Later... When the TV Turns to Static / Youngblood / It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry / Lonesome Swan / If / Secret Truth / The World is Yours / Dream Dream Dreaming / Geraldine / Ice Cream Van > Love is Strange (tease) > Ice Cream Van > Go Square Go

Flowers & Football Tops / Daddy's Gone / Lots Sometimes

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Black Joe Lewis Sweats It Out at Irving Plaza

I hadn't planned on going to a concert yesterday, so I was happily surprised when I looked in my inbox and discovered two tickets to see Black Joe Lewis at Irving Plaza.  Thanks to DoNYC, who were also presenting the show, I wouldn't be spending my evening shopping for Ziploc bags and clothes hangers.

Seattle band Pickwick took the stage first, beginning with the eerie "Myths," which merged into the soulful "Brother Roland."  Frontman Galen Disston had a good voice, but something was off with the mix or his mic because he could have been a lot clearer.  They proceeded with a new tune cut from the same (Terri)cloth as World/Inferno Friendship Society.  Aside from the vocal issues, that was Pickwick's biggest downfall: While they did a good job paying tribute to their various influences, they had some difficulty finding their own sound.  They were most successful when they'd dig into an upbeat bass-led jam like on "I Don't Wanna Go Out" or "Hacienda Motel."  The latter segued into "The Ostrich," a song Lou Reed recorded with the Primitives for the Pickwick label in 1964.  For those of you who've never heard the record, just imagine your 45 of the Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me" skipping, and then people shouting weird bird noises over it.  They funneled that punk energy into their final number "Window Sill," with guitarist Michael Parker jumping down onto the barricade to scream into the crowd's faces.

From behind Irving's setbreak projection screen came a deep monster voice, welcoming the audience to the show.  The screen slowly lifted, revealing Black Joe Lewis, who eased into "Vampire," the first of ten Electric Slave songs that would be played.  The Texan lovechild of James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, Lewis specializes in distortion-heavy, take-no-prisoners, funk rock.  At the end of the first song, he lifted his arms to reveal damp splotches in the pits of his light grey t-shirt.  I made a prediction: By the end of the night, the shirt would be three shades darker, drenched in sweat.  And although a recent foot injury may have limited Lewis' dancing abilities, his showmanship never faltered.  By the second song "Black Snake," he was playing guitar with his teeth.  A few tunes deeper, and he was hanging the instrument from his head, churning out a wake of feedback as he stumbled around like a zombie.  By the time he reached "Guilty" halfway through the set, Lewis admitted, "I think I used up all my tricks for the night, so you all might see some of the same shit."
While many of the gritty ditties shared a similar structure, the repetitiveness was excused by the band's enthusiastic playing, which was nothing short of intoxicating.  The swampy hard rock of "Skulldiggin" ignited the audience, as well as saxophonist Jason Frey, who grabbed a tambourine and leapt back and forth off of Eduardo Torres' drum riser.  Fans were definitely getting their money's worth, with one even tossing a crumpled bill at Lewis.  "You can keep your money, girl. I'm not a gigolo," Joe said, unraveling the greenback to reveal Washington's face.  Funnily enough, he followed the proclamation with "Make Dat Money."  The moment I'd been waiting for finally came when they revved up "Sugarfoot," the first BJL song I had ever heard.  When they weren't firing off their signature blasts, the hornsmen stepped out with some choreographed moves á la the Temptations.  Then Joseph Woullard completely blew the lid off the room with an astonishing bari sax solo, simultaneously playing both low and high parts.  They completed the set with a pair of Electric Slave tracks, "Young Girls" and "Mammas Queen."  Two minutes later, the band reclaimed the stage.  "Y'all knew we were comin' back," smiled Joe, and he pounded out two more rockers, his shirt now charcoal in color.

(If anyone knows the name of the encore songs, please inform me.)

BLACK JOE LEWIS - 02.19.14 - IRVING PLAZA (1 hour, 27 minutes)

Vampire / Black Snake / Dar es Salaam / Booty City / I'm Gonna Leave You / The Hipster / You Been Lyin' / Golem / Guilty > Skulldiggin / Make Dat Money / Come to My Party / I'm Broke / Sugarfoot / Young Girls / Mammas Queen

Waste* / Won't You Call Me on the Telephone*

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Robert Ellis & Ian O'Neil Unload a Heap of New Music at Mercury Lounge

"I haven't even played anything and we're having technical difficulties," Ian O'Neil said sheepishly, as he realized the mic pointed at his guitar's sound hole wasn't on.  Creedence's "Green River" seeped out over the PA, and O'Neil's Deer Tick comrade Dennis Ryan started shuffling.  Ian mimed playing the song for a laugh.  With the mic reinstated, it was time to begin.  The duo managed to get through one verse of "Bury Deep" before some atrocious feedback forced them to stop.  O'Neil borrowed headliner Robert Ellis' electric, and started over from the top.  The two followed that with "Walkin Out the Door," one of Ian's Deer Tick numbers.  Ryan moved aside for "I Got Nothing Left to Give to the Toilet," which O'Neil revealed to be a tune by Happiness, the duo's new side project.  Curiously, Dennis was silent for both songs identified as Happiness tracks.  "Oh Lord, Your Fire is with Me" was a slower one, but Ian's gentle "ooh"s had a melody fit for an anthemic pop song.  After covering Neil Young's "Don't Cry No Tears," he played "On the Beach," a Happiness original not to be confused with another song by Young.  Dennis returned to the mic again for "She's Not Spanish" and "The Dream's in the Ditch," a song so catchy that Robert Ellis was onstage singing along by verse two.  Before finishing his set with "Maybellene," O'Neil thanked the crowd for showing up for his first NYC solo gig.  I guess he doesn't count Brooklyn Bowl, where I saw him open for Deer Tick three times.

Robert Ellis kicked things off with "Westbound Train," which grew steadily into a full-on country romp, accented by the wonderful pedal steel of Will Van Horn.  It was the night's only offering from 2011's Photographs, as a week ago, Robert dropped his third album, The Lights from the Chemical Plant.  Refusing to be pigeonholed as just a country artist, Ellis used the new tunes to exemplify his stylistic diversity.  "Pride" wrapped up with a section that verged on prog, and "Steady as the Rising Sun" had a smooth R&B flavor.  "I always tell people they might want to get a pregnancy test after that guitar solo," Robert laughed, commending the talents of Kelly Doyle.  While "Rising Sun" may be the only love song on the record, that distinction only extends to animate objects, with Ellis' affair with television cleverly expressed in "TV Song."  "Not to be confused with the 'TV Song' by Ministry.  We have a lot of crossover fans," he joked.  The band dropped out for the song's Walt Disney verse, allowing Robert to captivate the room solely with his sweet, southern voice.  Ellis went it alone for the somber "Tour Song," and then invited the band back for the propulsive jazz-rock of the brand new "Elephant."  Ellis offered up some time for a Doyle instrumental, and then he put his guitar down.  Grabbing the mic from its stand, Robert dove into "Still Crazy After All These Years," which he covers on Chemical Plant.  It's clearly one of his favorite songs, evident in his enthusiasm whilst singing, but his excitement got the best of him, and it sort of felt like karaoke.  He fared better when he grabbed a Telecaster for a countrified spin on Richard Thompson's "Tear-Stained Letter," assisted on vocals by Dennis Ryan back at the drumkit.  "They have a curfew here, so this is the encore," Ellis remarked as the band embarked on a jam that contained all the creaks and shrieks of a haunted house before it melted into the burning bluegrass of "Sing Along."  Robert has claimed that he wants to avoid gigs at honky-tonk bars because they may not be as receptive to his genre-jumping.  It was obvious that the hip NYC crowd at Mercury Lounge loved it all, especially the country stompers.

IAN O'NEIL - 02.18.14 - MERCURY LOUNGE (36 minutes)

Bury Deep (aborted) / Bury Deep / Walkin Out the Door / I Got Nothing Left to Give to the Toilet* / Oh Lord, Your Fire is with Me* / Don't Cry No Tears / On the Beach* / She's Not Spanish / The Dream's in the Ditch (feat. Robert Ellis) / Maybellene

ROBERT ELLIS - 02.18.14 - MERCURY LOUNGE (1 hour, 14 minutes)

Westbound Train / Good Intentions / Pride / Steady as the Rising Sun / TV Song / Only Lies / Houston / Tour Song / Elephant / A Robot Named Pitchy* / Still Crazy After All These Years / Tear-Stained Letter / Sing Along

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Hollis Brown Play Their Longest Gig at Front Row Cube

Over the past year, the South Street Seaport has been aiming to reinvent itself from a mall near boats into an urban fun zone.  In the summer, they turned a shipping container into a bar, screened family-friendly films on an astroturf lawn, and had bands perform on an outdoor stage.  With the weather now in the 20s, it was only fitting that they open a pop-up indoor music venue to continue the party.  If you've ever wondered what a concert inside an upside-down bounce castle would be like, check out the Front Row Cube.  The inflatable cuboid with color-changing walls was a heated respite from the bitter breeze off the East River, but unfortunately, it attracted more chattering bargoers than music fans.  The talking bounced off the Cube's high ceiling, providing some stiff competition for the band.  Thankfully, Queens' premier neo-classic rock act, Hollis Brown, brought more than their A game, playing their longest concert, chock full of old favorites, covers from Otis Redding to the Rolling Stones, and brand new songs.

Hollis Brown started with "Highway One," a relatively new number, but definitely worthy of the opening slot.  It was a move of confidence, a trait that has increased every time I've seen them play.  Two of their best-loved tunes, "Ride on the Train" and "
Gypsy Black Cat," came next, the latter with frontman Mike Montali and bassist Dillon DeVito singing the last round together into one mic.  It was nice to see keyboardist Michael Hesslein in a more permanent position, and new drummer Andrew Zehnal offered a jazzier take than his predecessor, Mike Graves.  As always, they absolutely nailed the harmonies on "Faith & Love."  They followed it with "Train Round the Bend," the first of four Loaded Velvet Underground tunes to make an appearance.  (The band is releasing a VU tribute in April.)  Sadly, the cocktail-drinkers yapped right over the quieter "If It Ain't Me."  "Alright, we're gonna rock out a little bit for you," announced Montali, diving into "Green River."  The Creedence cover grabbed a few more listeners, and then the band embarked on a dark jam before "Doghouse Blues."  "This is like the longest we've played this year.  We're putting a lot of shit out there," Mike informed.  Dillon sang "Carolina, Carolina," the only tune from their debut that was played, but his microphone wasn't loud enough to make a real impression.  Then the group stripped down to a trio of Montali, DeVito, and Zehnal for a new number with a chorus in Spanish (Hey, every band has to try it, right?).  Bonilla and Hesslein returned for "Sweet Jane," but I mainly heard the drunk guy in front of me debating his friends as to whether or not he'd heard the song before.  It was Neil Young's "On the Beach" that unquestionably proved the shortcomings of the audience.  The lyric "I need a crowd of people" should've been met with a roar, but alas, the babbling at the bar prevailed.  Jon Bonilla took lead vocals on "Lonesome Cowboy Bill," and injected a bit of chaos into the vibe before Montali slowed things down with a solo performance of the Stones' "No Expectations."  The road trip of a set that began on "Highway One" ended with another new song, "Wait for Me, Virginia."  With its singalong chorus perfect for a summertime drive with the windows rolled down, I have no doubt this is going to become a setlist staple for years to come.
I was truly surprised that the audience made enough of an effort to request an encore, but I was even more surprised by the song choice.  Montali said they'd be doing a "rock and roll staple," so I readied myself for "Rockin' in the Free World," which they've performed in the past.  When they catapulted into the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog," I smiled that I'd stuck it out despite my surroundings.  Hollis Brown weren't going to let a disrespectful crowd affect their performance, and that, my friends, is what truly takes confidence.

HOLLIS BROWN - 02.08.14 - FRONT ROW CUBE (1 hour, 49 minutes)

Highway One / Ride on the Train / Gypsy Black Cat / Faith & Love / Train Round the Bend / When the Weather's Warm / Outlaw Blues / Down on Your Luck / If It Ain't Me / Green River / Jam* > Doghouse Blues / Cool It Down / Hey Baby / That's How Strong My Love Is / Carolina, Carolina / Nothing & the Famous No One / Siempre Mi Amor* / Sweet Jane / On the Beach / Lonesome Cowboy Bill / Nightfall / No Expectations / Wait for Me, Virginia

I Wanna Be Your Dog

Chris Mills Dazzles in Maroon at Union Hall

The first time I saw Chris Mills, he was opening for Ken Stringfellow at Mercury Lounge.  His excellent voice, adept lyricism, and witty banter endeared him to everyone in the brick-walled room.  His set consisted mainly of new songs to be released on an upcoming album.  That was almost a year ago, and now that record has finally arrived.  It's called Alexandria, and it was well worth the wait.  Last night at Brooklyn's Union Hall, Chris Mills & the Distant Stars held a concert in celebration of its overdue arrival.

Keeping it classy in a maroon suit, Mills took the stage with his bandmates: Clint Newman on guitar, Chris Buckridge on bass, and Konrad Meissner on drums.  While Konrad was the only one who had played with Chris on the album, it was quickly evident that this group was just as capable of delivering the goods.  They began as the LP does, with the introspective "Wild Places" before plunging headfirst into the striking title track.  Having played the first two tunes at the keys, Chris strapped on a guitar and rocked forth with "Calling All Comrades."  He followed it with two older numbers, "Watch Chain" and "Escape from New York," before returning to the new record with "Blooms."  I must admit I was a little surprised to be hearing so many non-Alexandria songs, considering they had made up the bulk of last year's setlist, but he was solo then.  This time, he had a band, so he wanted to rock.  He also made it a point to draw from almost every stage of his career, so kudos to him for that.

"I just took a tour of the polar vortex.  St. Paul is lovely on a Sunday night at 40 below.  A lot of people want to come to that show," said Chris, gracious that we had braved the ice to make it.  The inclement weather also likely had a small effect on his vocals (occasionally already labeled "weathered") on songs where he had to shout over the guitars.  Peculiarly, the ones where he let his voice take the forefront were the night's shining moments.  The end of "Rubicon," which he finished a cappella, was enough to cause chills rivaling those outside.  After the alt-country "Crooked Vein," Mills returned to his seat at the keyboard.  Someone in the crowd shouted a request of "1000 Blue Eyed Girls."  Chris laughed, "Deep cut.  You gotta email that in," and proceeded with "Chris Mills is Living the Dream."  "Castaways" ended righteously with Mills, Newman, and Buckridge repeating, "Are you waiting to come ashore?" before Chris' final epic "What are you waitiiiiiing forrrrrrrrrr?"  A thank you to all those who donated to the LP's Kickstarter and a quick plug for merch ("If you're not on the email list, sign up for the mailing list.  Don't be a dick.") were chased with the Who-evoking closer "Brand New Day."

It wouldn't be a release party without an encore, so Chris claimed the stage yet again.  Although it's a piano ballad on the album, Mills picked up his acoustic for "The Sweet Hereafter."  As mentioned, it was a real treat to hear that emotive voice without all the added volume of a band.  The Distant Stars reappeared to assist on "Thank You Friends," a Big Star tune that in context, felt as if it were expressly written as the theme to crowdfunding.  But really, you should pick up the album.  It's Chris who deserves the thanking.

CHRIS MILLS & THE DISTANT STARS - 02.07.14 - UNION HALL (1 hour, 13 minutes)

Wild Places / Alexandria / Calling All Comrades / Watch Chain / Escape from New York / Blooms / Dry Eye / Rubicon / Such a Beautiful Thing / The Silver Line / Atom Smashers / Crooked Vein / Chris Mills is Living the Dream / Castaways / Brand New Day

The Sweet Hereafter / Thank You Friends

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Jeremy Messersmith Gives Heart Murmurs at Mercury Lounge

"Hi, everybody.  Thank you for coming.  I have a new record out today.  That's mildly exciting," said the humble Jeremy Messersmith.  The critically lauded Minneapolis troubadour didn't have to be so modest.  Heart Murmurs, his fourth album, and first on Glassnote Records, was released yesterday, and has already garnered buzz from NPR to Time Magazine.  Messersmith celebrated with a sold-out show at Mercury Lounge, performing 9/11 of the LP's tracks (Conspiracy, anyone?), along with a sprinkling of tunes from 2010's The Reluctant Graveyard.

Jeremy and his band hit the ground running with propulsive first single "Tourniquet," followed promptly by "Lazy Bones."  And just because the majority of musicians on the stage were wearing eyeglasses, that didn't mean they couldn't rock.  Peter Sieve's guitar helped to forge a wailing wall of sound on "Heidi," pushing it all the way into noise pop territory.  
"Dillinger Eyes" had a plucky early '70s vibe to it, and "It's Only Dancing" chugged along nicely in the capable hands of drummer Andy Thompson.  "Okay, I can't rock anymore without doing a couple singery-songwriter ones," announced Jeremy, picking up an acoustic and dismissing his bandmates, save for Sieve.  The duo performed "I Want to Be Your One Night Stand," a wishful love song where JM imagines drinking boxed wine in a cheap motel room with his minivan parked outside.  By lacing the song with humor, Messersmith deftly avoided the maudlinness often found in the folk genre.  Peter left Jeremy alone to perform "Steve" and "A Girl, a Boy, & a Graveyard," the latter of which was met with knowing claps from the audience.  J-Mess was even assisted on the song's final chorus by a faint whistling from the front of the room.

The band reconvened with Jeremy for a few of the night's finest numbers, including "Ghost," where comely keyboardist Sarah Perbix and bassist Ian Allison joined forces in a Western shuffle.  It was truly powerful as everyone in the band sang the last few refrains in unison.  In lieu of faking an encore break, Messersmith chose to remain onstage to lead the band through the Beatles-meets-Beach Boys pop of "Violet!"  The band retreated to the side of the stage once more to allow for a final solo song.  "I always like to end my records with like a little after-dinner mint," Jeremy explained prior to "Someday, Someone."  Inspired by a post found during a stoned, late-night Reddit session, the tune proved JM's unique voice as a songsmith yet again, containing the line "Someday, someone will love the fuck out of you / I will if you want me to."  While you probably won't be seeing that on a Hallmark card anytime soon, you will likely be hearing a lot more of Jeremy Messersmith.


SET - 
Tourniquet / Lazy Bones / Heidi / Bridges / Dillinger Eyes / It's Only Dancing / I Want to Be Your One Night Stand / Steve / A Girl, a Boy, & a Graveyard / Organ Donor / Hitman / Ghost / Violet! / Someday, Someone

The Next Round - Episode 8: ALO

Back in November, I had the pleasure of catching the second show ever by jamband supergroup, Incidental Animals.  Anchored by Steve Adams, Dave Brogan, and Dan Lebowitz of ALO, the band was rounded out by SCI's Kyle Hollingsworth and TAB's Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman.  I got to talk to Lebo after the show about how the band came together, what he's thinking about while he's jamming, and how he and Zach Gill escaped from Hurricane Sandy.  Check it out!

Subscribe on iTunes, download directly, or stream below:

Get Tour D'Amour tickets here and sign up for the Hot Tub Club.

I'll be at Flannery's Bar on Thursday at 9pm for "Laugh and a Draft."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Recipe for Man Man at Music Hall of Williamsburg

Recipe for Man Man Concert

Notes from the chef
This dish is a raucous delight, perfect for the day before Super Bowl Sunday.  While it only takes a little more than an hour to make, you'll still be satisfied by the amount of energy that went into it.

4 skeletons
1 opening act, Xenia Rubinos
1 handful glitter
6 cups beer
18 songs, mainly culled from last year's best album
1 megaphone
1 alien mask
1 fur coat, white
1 cloak, multi-patterned
energetic crowd
assorted instruments

1. Set lights to low.  Put 3 skeletons onstage and have them play a brief intro.
2. Introduce fourth skeleton draped in cloak.  Turn its back to crowd and spread arms to create creepy moth effect.
3. Begin songs.
4. At "Top Drawer," toss beers into air without regard for other crowdmembers.
5. Stir crowd vigorously until a mosh pit is created.
6. Toss glitter into mosh pit.
7. Dress lead singer skeleton in fur coat for a fantastic "Loot My Body."
8. Right around "Mister Jung Stuffed," you'll notice a froth forming on the crowd.  Skim the top with the wildest members.
9. Put alien mask on lead singer skeleton to distort vocals for "Paul's Grotesque."
10. Dress opener as skeleton.  Have her perform backup vocals for "Pink Wonton," "Head On," and "King Shiv."
11. Remove opener.
12. Push the eagle's stomach.
13. Play "Born Tight."  Set aside skeletons.
14. Scream and clap.
15. Bring back drummer skeleton.  Set drum machine for "El Azteca."
16. Combine remaining skeletons with drummer.  Give megaphone to lead singer.
17. Whip continuously until you smell the blood of an Englishman.  If you do this right, the crowd should go nuts.
18. Garnish with "Young Einstein on the Beach."  

Serves 550.


Intro > When You Come / Help / Whirlwind / Cherry Tree / Pan y Café / Little Lost Cat* / Motorcycle / Hair Receding

MAN MAN - 02.01.14 - MUSIC HALL OF WILLIAMSBURG (1 hour, 9 minutes)

Intro* > End Boss > Top Drawer > Zebra / Loot My Body / Mister Jung Stuffed / Paul's Grotesque / Pink Wonton > Head On / King Shiv > Push the Eagle's Stomach > Doo Right / Born Tight

El Azteca / Bangkok Necktie / Sparks / Engrish Bwudd / Werewolf (on the Hood of Yer Heartbreak) / Young Einstein on the Beach

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds Fly with Zeppelin at Brooklyn Bowl

In December, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds invited their fans to vote on ten classic albums, ranging from Aretha Franklin's Lady Soul to Superunknown by Soundgarden.  The winning LP would be covered in its entirety at the band's January 31st Brooklyn Bowl concert.  A few weeks ago, Led Zeppelin's IV was announced as the victor, and the band got to work arranging and rehearsing for last night's show.

The event was opened with a long set from Brooklyn's Zongo Junction, a 9-piece Afrobeat outfit made up of the whitest-looking dudes possible.  I'd never seen or heard of them before, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they were real deal, not just a group of pale imitators.  As they made their way through their instrumental tunes, crowdmembers spun in joyous circles around the dance floor.  I was even more impressed when the band deviated away from the standard Afrobeat rhythms, with bassist David Lizmi (a dead ringer for Frank Zappa) taking one jam into the depths of the ocean as keyboardist Ross Edwards layered in some decaying vocal effects.  I noticed that a stand in the center of the stage held an unused vocal microphone, and I joked with my friend that I was going to join them.  I began to improvise lyrics about a mosquito and malaria.  Fortunately for everyone, I didn't jump onstage, and Zongo Junction received another credibility boost when they introduced Abena Koomson, who had served as vocal captain for Broadway's Fela!  Koomson led a crowd chant on the militantly catchy "T.D.D. (Tear Dem Down)," dancing as the boys kept the groove going.  Imagine my shock when she started singing "Elephant & Mosquito," which contained lines about a mosquito and malaria.  I spent the rest of the set convinced that I was some sort of Afrobeat psychic, smiling as I listened to the ghostly sounds of the Farfisa organ and watched percussionist Morgan Greenstreet wildly contort his mouth as he banged away on the congas.

Having seen the Dirty Birds three times last year, I'd grown accustomed to them opening with an instrumental barrage before Sister Sparrow hopped out to sing the first number.  It was obvious this was going to be a different kind of show, as Arleigh Kincheloe emerged right at the beginning to sing "The Way You Make Me Feel."  (Michael Jackson's Bad was also in the cover album poll.)  They proceeded with five of their own songs, highlights including "The Long Way" and "Make It Rain."  Following a killer "Crawdaddies," the stage went dark for a tad longer than usual.  It was time.

They roared into "Black Dog" to kick off Zeppelin IV, Arleigh modifying the lyrics to "a skinny-legged woman ain't got no soul" to fit her petite frame.  Guitarist Sasha Brown blew my mind when he tore into the riff from "Bulls on Parade" to start "Rock & Roll."  He weaved the motif in and out of the song, which Arleigh finished by turning her back to the crowd and screeching higher than Robert Plant ever could.  I was intrigued to see how they'd handle the Lord of the Rings-themed "The Battle of Evermore," a nerd fantasy that just doesn't do it for me on record.  Sasha locked into a sinister groove that bent towards industrial with the addition of a grating harmonica ostinato from Jackson Kincheloe.  The packed house began to get a little chatty during the number, which continued into "Stairway to Heaven."  If there's ever a time to shut up at a concert, it's during "Stairway," but silence didn't come until the song's powerful conclusion.  Brown's guitar should have been louder in the mix from the start of the show, so maybe that would've helped.  "Misty Mountain Hop" got the floor moving again as expected.  The beat gradually began to slow until the Birds pulled a 180° and dropped into "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" (Graceland was also a candidate.) for a bit before returning to the "Hop."  The last time I saw Sister Sparrow, it was in a sweaty basement for the Fight EP release party.  Unfortunately, Arleigh's vocals were a little strained that evening.  Last night, she'd never sounded better.  The prime example was "Four Sticks," where you could hear every drop of joy and pain that she harbors in that soulfully stirring voice.  While Josh Myers traded his bass for an acoustic and Sasha doubled his string-count, Arleigh grinned widely at the audience.  "You asked for it!  We're so, so happy that this is the album you chose for us to play," she gushed.  "Playing music is fun, but playing Zeppelin is a whole 'nother thing."  Again, talking covered up a lot of the delicate "Going to California," but when you could hear the intricate notes of Brown's 12-string, it was beautiful.  This was a Zeppelin show, however, so people wanted to rock.  They got their wishes with "When the Levee Breaks."  Assisted by three of Zongo Junction's horn players, the Dirty Birds had everyone in the Bowl bouncing until its end.  "Brooklyn, we love you so fucking much!" yelled Arleigh as the the Birds flew the coop.  The sold-out crowd roared their approval.  Less than a minute later, the band reclaimed the stage to finish up with another Zeppelin tune: Houses of the Holy track "D'yer Mak'er."  The reggae ditty was the icing on the cake, likely a rum cake, as Sister Sparrow snuck in the liquor-soaked chorus from her own "Vices."

It was definitely a night to remember for the band and everyone sober enough in the crowd.  Let's hope Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds make an album cover show an annual tradition, so we'll have even more memories in the years to come.

SISTER SPARROW & THE DIRTY BIRDS - 01.31.14 - BROOKLYN BOWL (1 hour, 23 minutes)

The Way You Make Me Feel / The Long Way / Don't Be Jealous / Make It Rain / Borderline / Crawdaddies / Black Dog > Rock & Roll/Bulls on Parade / The Battle of Evermore / Stairway to Heaven > Misty Mountain Hop > Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes > Misty Mountain Hop > Four Sticks / Going to California / When the Levee Breaks

D'yer Mak'er > Vices > D'yer Mak'er