Sunday, 24 November 2013

Live review: Benefit Concert for Yellow Dogs (Nada Surf and more)

This is a repost of an article I wrote on My Social List. Original post HERE.

Bands, artists, friends, fans, curious onlookers and just those who wanted to gather for the community attended Brooklyn Bowl last night for a tribute/benefit/memorial concert for The Yellow Dogs.

The tragedy surrounding the band has been well documented here, and just yesterday we ran two opinion pieces on the subject (here and here). Speaking as someone from England, gun violence is almost an entirely alien concept, and even seeing armed security guards (I saw a couple last night) fills me with dread. These issues simply don't exist where I'm from. I'm a fan of Yellow Dogs. They were my Artist to Watch just three weeks ago and I own both of their EPs, so what happened last week filled me with great sadness, as well as anger that any person, let alone someone mentally disturbed, can get their hands on such deadly weapons.

There was an odd vibe around the show beforehand, I lined up before the doors opened to see camera crews and journalists interviewing anyone they could.
To the side of the dancefloor was a memorial for band members Sourosh and Arash Farazmand along with their friend Ali Eskandarian. People wrote messages while images of the band projected onto the screens around the venue, candles were lit and I noticed many people embracing over the course of the night.
Nada Surf
I'm going to begin my recap with the headliners, Nada Surf, and then run through the rest of the night from start to finish. I would have come to the show regardless of the lineup just to show support, but I am also a complete Nada Surf fanboi. We all have bands that we feel that are ours, that hold a special place in our hearts, above others. Nada Surf are that band for me. They were the first band I feel like I truly discovered on my own, and they have been a constant throughout my teenage years and beyond. I love their music dearly.
I was wondering if they had any connection with the Yellow Dogs at all, or if they were just happy to help in the aftermath of a tragedy. After opening with Clear Eye Clouded Mind, bassist Daniel Lorca spoke of how he knew the band. It was the most heartbreaking speech of the night, and he played the rest of the set in tears. As a result, I often watched their set through my own tears. They were clearly deeply affected by what happened and they ran the gauntlet of emotions during their performance.
Nada Surf
Matthew Caws is a criminally underrated lyricist and has a penchant for delivering a particular line or two in each song that are just utterly brilliant, and they carried extra weight tonight. I always saw See These Bones as an atheist call for reality, that this life is all we have, but after hearing Matthew talk about the song it is even more than that; it's a humanist song and we should celebrate our commonality as human beings in this fleeting, and only time we share.

Look alive, see these bones
What you are now, we were once
And just like we are, you'll be dust
And just like we are, permanent

The rest of the night featured a good mix of acts but unfortunately had some problems, none of which came from the stage. I like Brooklyn Bowl, but had voiced concerns about coming here to watch more intimate sets, unfortunately I was right to be fearful. Heartfelt commentary and impassioned performances were almost downed out by the constant drone of idle chatter within the audience, along with the crashes of bowling balls knocking down pins. It seemed very disrespectful.
Johnny Azari
Johnny Azari got the night started, he told a story and read a poem his friend,  Ali Eskandarian wrote, before playing a song that Ali gave him confidence in. It was a sombre, but beautiful start.
Mitra Sumara
Next up was Mitra Sumara, a fellow Iranian who plays Eastern-twinged funk, I enjoyed their short set and the band was tight.
Helado Negro
Helado Negro's set was next, and whom I felt really sorry for because they were very quiet and the crowd were very loud. Helado would say how great it was to be in a room full of nice people in such a bad time, but even the people stood next to me at the front of the stage were talking. Helado had a fine voice and it's always good to hear a double bass, they didn't deserve to be ignored.
Sal P & 178 Improvisation Product
I think the Sal P & 178 Improvisation Product played afterwards, but I struggled to hear the name. They were earnest and gave a positive message, and their funky sound was a good pick-me-up.
Dirty Fences
Dirty Fences played a no-nosense rock and roll set and really gave it their all, maybe a little too much as they went over their allocated set time (I saw people at the side of the stage manically telling them to finish about two or three songs earlier than they did!) These guys would be right at home at Death By Audio or Shea Stadium If you haven't seen them before, I would recommend them.
Shirin Neshat
Shirin Neshat then came out and spoke a few words, including a message from David Byrne.
Luke Temple
I don't really know anything by Here We Go Magic, but I enjoyed Luke Temple's couple of songs. He had a really soulful voice.
Kyp Malone
I think TV On the Radio are probably the best band of this millennium, so it was a treat to see Kyp Malone play (albeit only one song.)
Hamish Kilgour
Hamish Kilgour played a couple of songs as a trio. I'm a fan of The Clean, but the talkers in the crowd meant I could barely hear anything at all coming from the stage. Frustrating!
Habibi were up next. I've seen them a couple of times before and I think they are developing into a fine band. If you're into 60's girl group sounds with a bit of surf and garage rock thrown in then you should definitely check them out.
James Chance
James Chance came out and noodled away over some backing tracks for about 5 minutes. It was hard to really get a sense of what he was playing and what was coming through the soundsystem, but he was into it.

And finally we had Nada Surf, who made all the previous frustrations wash away. I hope that the event raised plenty of money and maybe went a little way to helping anyone grieving during such an unimaginably difficult time. It's a shame that a large chunk of the crowd didn't seem that interested for the most part, but it was a good turn out. As Nada Surf say, "always love."

Minor Alps played Bowery Ballroom

This is a repost of a review of mine of My Social List. Original article here.

Minor Alps delighted fans at the Bowery on the 20th of November with a low-key acoustic set and what must be one of the most natural pairings in the music world: indie heavyweights Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws of Nada Surf.

Their record, Get There (on Barsuk Records), sounds just like what you would imagine if you put the two of them in a room together. The songs are immaculate, with melodies that are instantly gratifying but also get stronger with each listen and their voices combine perfectly. Take for example, lead single, I Don't Know What To Do With My Hands. Minor Alps is not the first time the pair have collaborated. They opened the night with a Nada Surf song that Juliana guested on, I Wanna Take You Home, which appeared on the bonus disc of their album, Lucky. Later in the set, the roles would be reversed with Such a Beautiful Girl, a song from Hatfield's 2008 record, How to Walk Alone, which featured Matthew Caws.
  Over the course of the night, most of Get There was played and we were also treated to some of Juliana's songs such as Candy Wrappers, Live on Tomorrow & June the 6th, as well as Nada Surf classics Inside of Love, Beautiful Beat, The Moon is Calling, The Way You Wear Your Head & Fruit Fly. I waxed lyrical about Nada Surf just a couple of days ago, of course. They also threw in a couple of covers, including The Everly Brothers' When Will I Be Loved.
 The acoustic format was refreshing, many of the songs on the record are recorded with a full electric band, but stripping the songs back gave them extra space to breathe and also reveal additional nuances.

Sylvan Esso opened the night and were an interesting electro-dance duo, although I found  that I lost interest in their set after a few songs as it became a bit samey. I'm sure they'd have gone down well at the recent Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival.

This was essentially a hometown show and it certainly had that vibe. Matthew is from New York and noted that his family are always watching from the balcony when he plays the Bowery, which he clearly has a lot of love for, Nada Surf always seem to play here (including two incredible shows in December 2012.) Side-projects and collaborations don't always work out, but Minor Alps seem to effortlessly combine the talents of both songwriters with an equal footing. It can be hard to gauge the longevity of these things but with one of the best and most understated records of the year under their belt and an obvious onstage chemistry, I certainly hope for more in the future.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Blouse Live Review: Glasslands 08/30/2013

Original post on My Social List here:

Blouse kicked off Captured Tracks' 5-year anniversary with their record release show at Glasslands in anticipation of Imperium, due for official release on the 17th of September.
I'd seen opening band, Writer, earlier in the summer at South Street Seaport supporting Fear of Men and I think their sound benefited from the more intimate setting that Glasslands provides. Brothers Andy and James Ralph create a fuzzed up racket that ultimately made for a nice contrast with the rest of the evening's offering. If they can continue the upward trajectory that latest single, I Make Neon, suggests, they will be one to watch.

Next up we had Donovan Blanc, whom I was completely ignorant of before they took to the stage. Musically I liked the dreamy acoustic guitar tones, reminiscent of The Go-Betweens without ever hitting the same heights, the songs were performed competently but I wasn't enthralled, these are clearly early days, however, so let's see how they progress.
Donovan Blanc
Blouse took to the stage a little after 10pm and began with the opening four tracks from Imperium, immediately showing off their new guitar-driven (and synthless) direction. They appear to have successfully changed whilst still sounding like themselves, a bold but rare and underrated quality where so many acts either completely sidestep to the point of being unrecognisable (not such a bad thing if the material is still good) or regurgitating the same song over and over. The one thing that unites all the material is Charlie Hilton's voice, which is delivered so gracefully with seemingly no effort at all.
The synths were brought out mid-set for a quickfire double of Time Travel and Videotapes from their self-titled debut, but these were not merely nuggets thrown out as crowd-pleasers, and the difference between the material helps build a varied set in sound and pace.
At this stage we hit a slight technical problem with a broken snare drum, which did take the momentum out of the show a little bit, but after Jacob Portrait (who was sporting a shirt featuring artwork from Seth Bogart of Hunx and his Punx) acquired a replacement we were back up to the present with new song, Arrested.
Blouse then breezed through the two songs that have been released for promotion, In a Feeling Like This, which does feature some electronic percussion and a delightfully simple lead guitar line, follwed up by the single No Shelter, which is just as delicious as anything on their eponymous debut.

The night ended with their flagship track, Into Black, which is one not many bands can claim to better this decade. It's always a bit of a kick in the teeth to see an encore scribbled onto a setlist and then not played. A trio of White, Shadow (their 7" single on Sub Pop) and the closing track from the new record, Trust Me, were due to be performed. There seemed sufficient enthusiasm from the crowd for an encore but New York audiences seem to give up very easily (or not even bother) and the house lights came up fairly shortly, this is in pretty stark contrast to shows back home in England (and yes I feel dirty for using the US date-format in the title...). Of course there are arguments for and against encores (they should be earned not expected, etc) but sometimes there seems to be an almost willful desire in this city for a band not to come out again and play more songs! It would have fleshed out the night quite superbly, as it was I felt that the show was a little too short for a headline act at a record release show.
Blouse should be applauded for not remaining static, and in any case their change in sounds feels feels natural from the perspective of this listener, unless you're hell-bent on only listening to songs with synths you won't be disappointed with the new material.

Live Review: Obits at the Bell House

Original post on My Social List here:

Obits celebrated the unveiling their third album, Beds & Bugs, with a rocking record release show at The Bell House on the 21st of September. I was excited leading up to the gig since I hadn't seen Obits perform before, despite being a fan since their debut, 2009's I Blame You. I also had yet to visit The Bell House, which I'd kept hearing good things about. Neither disappointed.
Opening the show was a guitar and drum duo called All Nines, who served up a spirited dose of no-nonsense rock and roll. They played facing each other, which made for an interesting dynamic, each taking turns on lead vocals. I could see them being perfectly suited to a smaller DIY venue. Their bandcamp page simply lists Anthony as guitars/vocals with Ted on drums, Anthony bears somewhat of a resemblance to Spinal Tap's Nigel Tuffnell, though Ted did not spontaneously combust, nor did they cover Lick My Love Pump.
I'd seen the next band, Prince Rupert's Drops, before at the Knitting Factory back in May. Their record, Run Slow, is a lovely slab of 60's tinged psychedelic rock which you should definitely check out via Beyond Beyond is Beyond records. Their roster is filled out by a bunch of fine psych bands. As live performers, however, they seem to be playing within themselves somewhat, and I felt a barrier between the band and the audience, though they can iron that out. The songs are there though, so they're one up on most.
Obits entered the fray a little after 11pm and began with the Sohrab Habibion-led Shift Operator from 2011's Moody, Standard and Poor; it's a brilliantly understated opener which leaves you wondering why he doesn't contribute more lead songs. Rick Froberg then took his usual position as frontman, kicking things off with Taste the Diff, which is Obits at their best, with a jerking riff backed by a wirey lead guitar line, while Froberg barks out his distinct voice. A quick-fire double of lead single Spun Out and It's Sick, which could well be the best song on the album, mimics the opening trio of songs from the new release. 

We heard eleven of the record's thirteen songs over the course of the show, with only This Must Be Done and Machines not getting an outing. Alexis Fleisig showed off his drum chops on Operation Bikini, switching from thumping toms to rim hits and keeping a song together that would fall off the rails in lesser hands.
Greg Simpson effortlessly glued the band together on his Rickenbacker bass (always a joy to see and hear.) Much is made of the twin guitars of Froberg and Habibion, but Simpson is critical to the band's sound. Spending most of the gig sporting a wry grin, he doesn't stray too far from his central position but his performance elicits a persona that is just too damn cool.
Habibion, on the other hand, lurches around the stage, obviously having a blast as each staccato attack on his guitar hits you like a jab to the face.
The main set was brought to a close with Receptor, before the band returned for an encore which included some choice cuts from their debut album, including Widow of My Dreams, Talking to the Dog and Light Sweet Crude, whilst also treating us to Refund, their 7" single release from last year. The audience bounced... politely, fists were pumped in the air triumphantly. The night was rounded off with I Want Resultswhich is exactly what we all got and what they have delivered in the shape of Beds & Bugs. Obits put on a fantastic show and will leave many an audience in their wake. Comparisons can easily be made to their previous bands or contemporaries, but sod that for a game of soldiers, this is four guys picking up their instruments and having a good time, and you will too.
Bed & Bugs is out now on Sub Pop, so buy it.

Live review: Shot! CMJ Showcase at The Flat

If you had read our comprehensive CMJ guide then it wouldn't have taken too much to connect the dots and head out to this show at The Flat. No fewer than 4 of the 6 bands featured in our "Artists to Watch" series of recommendations, I hope you had a good excuse if you weren't here.

I arrived midway through Lodro's opening set, who certainly looked and sounded well at home in The Flat's gothic Victorian decor, their Cramps-esque rhythm section delivered a fine start to the evening.
I was looking forward to seeing Tweens after being impressed with the songs from their bandcamp page. Their set was much punchier than I was imagining and also included a song that was straight-up 60s bubblegum pop with doo-wop backing vocals, keep an eye on this band, folks.
Hunters have quite the packed CMJ schedule and had already played earlier in the day. I've seen them on various bills throughout the year and they get better each time, be sure to check them out at our showcase on Saturday!
Next up was my personal highlight, Sisu. I've seen the band play a couple of times before but not since they released the rather excellent, Blood Tears. It is quite noticeable how much more confident Sandra Vu now is as a frontwoman since I last saw them back in May, they were fantastic before but their performance really kicked up a gear. If I see a better set at CMJ this year I will be surprised.
Total Slacker are a band that everyone in New York should see live if they get the chance (there are usually plenty), and they cooked up another great set tonight. I always feel like there should be a red mist (not in an angry way, just temperature) engulfing the stage when they play, if lava had a sound it would be Total Slacker.
Total Slacker
Headliners Perfect Pussy absolutely blitzed through their short set as if it was the last thing they were ever going to do. It was like being in a wind tunnel and you could tell the band were excited to be playing here. Go check out their EP on our artist to watch feature, then imagine everything faster, louder and better.
Great credit to The Flat for having everything run on schedule, the bands turned over quickly and there weren't really any technical hitches along the way (which can't be said for the show I was at the previous night at Ran Tea House!). I also got a free shot to go with the first beer, what more could you ask for?

Anna Calvi review - Music Hall of Williamsburg

Original article on My Social List here:

Anna Calvi is one of the great shining lights of modern music, and she brought the crowd at the Music Hall of Williamsburg to their knees on Monday night.

She opened with my favourite track, Suzanne & I, which unfortunately had a bit of a false start as Anna's guitar wasn't working properly, but she quickly got things together and blasted out the rest of the song. Next up was Eliza, the lead single from her new album, One Breath, which features a blistering guitar solo and Calvi's signature vocals; all the ingredients which make her so delectable.

The crowd were enthusiastic and completely under her spell for the duration of the set, myself included, as she made eye contact a few times during the slower songs. It was like being locked in a tractor beam. Phasers were definitely set to stun with her gaze (ok enough of the bad Star Trek puns.) One audience member audibly gasped with delight after Sing to Me. Maybe she gave him the eyes too.

Calvi doesn't speak much between songs; the odd thank you and an introduction to the band, which features Mally Harpaz on harmonium along with a new drummer and an additional keyboard/guitar player for this tour. Despite the introductions, all eyes are on Anna. For the duration of her 80-minute set, she may as well be the centre of the universe.

The crowd's reaction forced her to break out into many a smile between songs. It almost seemed out of character with her stage persona, which is that of an intense, lost-in-the-moment artist. Calvi is soft spoken and almost embarrassingly polite, though as a performer she's completely stark, which makes here all the more interesting to watch.

During the set-ending track Love Won't Be Leaving, we were treated to her customary extended guitar solo, which just blew everyone away. Her guitar skills really come to the fore when she's performing, and they're up there with the best in music.

If I were to score the show I would mark one point down for two reasons:
1) The vocals were a bit lower in the mix than I would have liked
2) One of the things we all dread at shows... the farter. Someone in the audience let rip with vulgar regularity throughout the night. Don't you just hate those who use the cover of a crowd to anonymously release noxious fumes?!

Despite those two gripes, it was a fantastic show, which Calvi rounded off with a deserved encore of Bleed Into Me and finally her cover of Edith Piaf's Jezebel.

Opening act Gems were unfortunately a really poor match for Calvi's strong performance, and a bit of a snoozefest, truth be told. Their set was a bit too nice and lightweight; offensively inoffensive.
Suzanne & I
Sing to Me
I'll Be Your Man
Piece by Piece
Carry Me Over
The Devil
Love Won't Be Leaving
Bleed Into Me