Sunday, 29 March 2015

Live review: Ecstatic Music Festival with Kaki King, John King and Ethel

Originally posted on Free Williamsburg HERE

kaki king john king

I took a rare trip up to the Upper West Side on Saturday night for the Ecstatic Music Festival, which featured a collaborative performance from Kaki King, composer John King, and string quartet Ethel. The festival began in mid January and runs until April the 16th and has included the likes of Helado Negro  and Julia Holter.

This was my first time at the Merkin Concert Hall, and it's a lovely setting for a show like this, although the front row (where I ended up finding a space) was probably not the best view, with the monitors blocking some of the view, and the stage being fairly high.

ethel john king

Ethel kicked the show off with Hardwood, a piece written by John King and the reason why Ethel formed as a group. It was a bit hard hearing them talking about how long ago the piece was written, because I don't want to think that the 1995 was twenty years ago! The two original members of the group, Ralph Ferris on viola and Dorothy Lawson on cello, are joined by Kip Jones and Corin Lee on violin.

ethel kaki king

Before each piece, the composer had a chance to talk about it, and John King was up next to explain Huzam and Khan Younis from his latest work, Free Palestine. On these he played the oud, which I'm not sure I've seen played live before.

Kaki King took centre stage for a couple of pieces from her most recent release, The Neck is a Bridge to the Body, which I saw performed in full last year and was blown away. A large part of that show is the visual element so while that was missing we did have the advantage of seeing Ethel perform their parts live (they are on the record), a nice contrast. They also performed Great Round Burn, from Kaki's album Glow, here is a rehearsal recording from last year.

If anything, Kaki's role in the evening was fairly restrained compared to the rest of the players over the course of the night, switching instruments around where appropriate, including bass on one of her pieces with John King, Space Baby. In any case, seeing Kaki play is a thing of beauty, she has a natural feel and style that sets her apart from most.

A stage like this is really set for the bowed instruments to make their mark, though, and Ethel are not just great players, but they also know how to perform, and it was a joy to watch them play. What almost made the night even more enjoyable was the range of styles on offer, one tends to conjure up a certain sound and aesthetic when thinking of string quartets, but those were turned upside down here.

kaki king ethel

The performance was streamed live, and should also be available Q2 music in the near future.
Kaki is back in New York on the 21st of May, performing The Neck is a Bridge to the Body at Rough Trade. Tickets are still available and I highly recommend going, I have not seen a show like it. The visuals are stunning, the interaction is wonderful and Kaki's playing is a joy to behold.

Live review: Twerps and Ultimate Painting played Rough Trade

Originally posted on Free Williamsburg HERE.

I made the trek to Rough Trade for the second time this week, this time to catch Melbourne's Twerps. In terms of the dictionary definition, the only twerps were those not watching the band on Friday night.
King Cyst were originally on the bill but were replaced with Pale Lights, and having seen the former struggle through a set at Brooklyn Night Bazaar recently, I wasn't surprised (the guitarist/singer had broken his finger and couldn't really play). I've seen Pale Lights a few times, they have a pleasant sound that was appropriate with the overall bill; the guitars jangle with a notable Go-Betweens influence. However, their awkwardness on stage is to their detriment, as sympathetic as I am about such things. Bands like Teenage Fanclub, for example, can get away with being statues because they play brilliant pop tunes, Pales Lights have a bit of work to do in that regard to say the least, but their songs are nice, though Philip Sutton reading his lyrics off a sheet seems to bemuse some in the crowd.
Pale Lights

Ultimate Painting made the trip over from the UK and feature James Hoare of Veronica Falls, whose second album in particular, Waiting for Something to Happen, cannot be recommended enough. Ultimate Painting veer more towards The Velvet Underground with their sound, which you think sounds like a clever comparison until you find out everyone says the same thing. I saw the band back in October during CMJ and have to confess, found them terribly dull, but almost half-a-year longer of being a band has done them the world of good. They were tighter and played with much more vigour as they delivered a highly enjoyable set. Their final song, a 10-minute guitar workout, was a highlight.

Ultimate Painting

Australian bands always seem to draw a crowd, although given how bad New Yorkers seem to be at gauging accents between the two countries, I wondered if they might have thought Ultimate Painting were from Australia and Twerps were from England... but Rough Trade is possibly even sold out by the time the band take to the stage.
Formed in 2008, after releasing an album and EP, it was no surprise to see them land on Merge records in the US, given that they have bands like The Clean on their roster, whom one imagines are more than adored by tonight's headliners. Songs like Shoulders and Stranger serve as a reminder that spring is on the way, and while the band have left warmer climes behind (albeit en route to Texas), their infectious tunes feel like hard-won sunshine to these ears.


Whether playing guitar or keyboards, Julia McFarlane fleshes out the band's sound with aplomb, her playing is often understated but adds texture that elevates the band beyond just another jangle-pop group.

The band's second album, Range Anxietyis out on Merge Records now, and as Martin Frawley sings on Back To You; "Somebody out there is doin' better than me", but Twerps seem to be having an incredible time right now and it's hard not to see them reach even dizzier heights.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Live review: Moon Duo played Rough Trade

Moon Duo, or perhaps rather, Moon Trio as a live act these days, gave a space-rock masterclass at at jam-packed Rough Trade on Monday night, celebrating the release of new album Shadow of the Sun, which is out now on Sacred Bones.
Opening the show was Laced, a side-project of Beach Fossils' Dustin Payseur, they don't stray too far from his day job with bright guitar tones very much to the fore.
Up next was Advaeta, a local trio with whom I wasn't previously familiar. Their first song ventured into Slits territory for a while but the majority of their songs blurred the lines of shoegaze and krautrock with fuzzy guitar sounds. It was refreshing to see a band who seemed to enjoy playing, most notably drummer Lani Combier-Kapel, with her penchant for tom-tom rhythms.

Things were starting to heat up in the venue as everyone was still getting used to slightly-above freezing temperatures, but the heat seemed appropriate as Moon Duo took to the stage a little after 10pm. The band were swamped in a red glow from a rear projector, switching up colours of horizontal lines for the rest of the show. The result was simple but effective, with your attention often drawn to the band's silhouette.
Whilst some acts could be criticised for being a bit one-paced, Moon Duo's almost one-dimensional outlook translates into a multi-dimensional vibe. Repeated rhythms lay the foundation for Ripley Johnson to go wild on his guitar in true space-rock fashion. It's best not to analyse the music too much but just let yourself be swept away by it. This is certainly how many attendees went about things, reactions range from zombie-like sways to more furious head nodding.

It's that straight-and-narrow rhythmic bedrock that pulls you in, as stubbornly hugging to a template actually frees the music, with any subtle change lighting up your senses. It's enough to make you think that music itself is the best mind-altering drug.

Live Review: Viet Cong played Mercury Lounge

Viet Cong
The term "post-punk" is almost as nauseatingly ubiquitous as saying "indie", but language is descriptive and lazy-usage aside, post-punk is going to land you smack bang into Viet Cong-territory. The Canadian 4-piece arrive on a wave of expectation due to their outstanding self-titled album that has just been released; Mercury Lounge is suitably packed to the rafters (as was Union Pool the previous night).
What Moon Things
Openers What Moon Things were an appropriate appetiser for the nights main course, they've made the trek from New Paltz in upstate NY and play a quiet-loud-quiet template that reminds me of Cymbals Eat Guitars, the tone is icy  and the band locked into slow grooves. I picked up the record after the show.
Viet Cong 2
The songs on Viet Cong are often described as bleak, wintery, dark, and other synonyms, personally I find the saddest songs often the most beautiful. Regardless, it's a meticulously crafted record. The band's onstage demeanour is in contrast downright playful with smiles all round; Bassist/singer Matt Flegel smirks as he proclaims "we're going to play another serious song now".
Viet Cong 4
Six of the seven tracks from the new record get an airing, with only opening song Newspaper Spoons omitted, we were also treated to Unconscious Melody and Oxygen Feed from 2013's Cassette release. A further highlight was a brand new song, which was possibly the fastest played in the evening, more along the lines of Silhouettes, they were still working out a few parts but it seemed pretty finished to these ears.

These Calgarians are accomplished musicians and the 6/4 pattern of Bunker Buster gives the nerds something to chew on. The set was closed out with the first song of 2015 to really blow me away; Death also closes the record and you can't imagine a place for it anywhere else because there's just nowhere left to go after 11-minutes of near perfection. We do get a false start for the song as drummer Mike Wallace accidentally trips one of the guitar pedals while he steals some of guitarist Scott Munro's beer, but it's the kind of thing that adds to the charm of the night and they're back on track after some more laughs.
Viet Cong 5
Mercury Lounge's pricey beer and occasional lack of atmosphere can be a hindrance at times, but what it does have is the best sounding room in the city, which handles the band perfectly. I could imagine some of their music turning into a bit of a mess on a substandard PA, what's also interesting about seeing Viet Cong is being able to see what they're actually playing. Some parts of the record I thought were played on synths or through a pedal ended up being the opposite. The call-and-response interplay between Daniel Christiansen and Scott Munro's guitars is also best experienced live.
Viet Cong 3
Viet Cong will be back in New York for the Northside festival, with a show at Music Hall Williamsburg on the 13th of June (that happens to be my birthday...). The hype machine chews bands up and spits them out at an alarming rate, but Viet Cong are the real deal on this evidence.
Purchase Viet Cong from Jagjaguwar and Cassette from Mexican Summer.