Thursday, April 2, 2009

Live: Efterklang and Shilpa Ray and more

When: 3/28
Where: Mercury Lounge

Oh Land, the opening act, featured three female vocalists singing over mediocre electronic beats. The whole thing, right down to front woman's Nanna Oland Fabricius's avant-garde fashion, seemed like an overwrought Bjork reference. It wasn't a bad listen - they are all good singers - but it was way over the top. [MySpace]

As you might guess, I really went to the show to check in with Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers after their triumphant week at SXSW. Though down one Happy Hooker (Soft Blank's Vincent Cacchione was not present), the band rocked harder and tighter than I've heard them before. Some of the antics were slightly toned down, since they weren't the headlining act, but Ray did spend a lot of time screaming "fuck you" repeatedly into the microphone - not at the audience, but rather with them (at least in spirit).

Ray's music doesn't sound weird at all, but it's surprisingly difficult to classify. It's a distillation of everything from blues, soul and jazz to punk rock. The band was tight last time I saw them, but this time around, they were even more engaging, with the remarkably talented rhythm section knocking out some smooth grooves under Ray's Joplin-esque growl. The melodies and songs, even those I'd heard before, seemed more focused, and the set's momentum made the final numbers feel simply immense.

All was delivered, of course, with the band's characteristic energy, intense yet fun. Ray engaged her hecklers between songs and when not playing her hand-powered harmonium, danced around the stage with some classic Shilpa moves - that is, the moves you'd imagine from a seven-year-old who's just downed a cup of espresso. After SXSW, the general consensus is that this band is headed for great things. I told ya so. [MySpace]

Next up was guitarist and singer Peter Broderick. Sorry to be harsh, but yawwwwn. If you're into pretty singer-songwriter stuff, I don't think it was bad. But personally, I was bored after the first two bars.

I'd never heard the headliner Efterklang before, though I'd gathered they were some sort of Scandanvian post-rock ensemble. I was prepared to be bored, but several people encouraged me to stay. And it was apparent Efterklang is a favorite among fellow musicians - the audience included members of Los Campesinos! and the National among others.

I've said many times that post-rock is a largely played-out style, so I was surprised to hear Efterklang breathe new life into the music. Not that they are doing anything completely original, but they are certainly doing it better than most. Their vocal harmonies are stunning and their math rock tendencies are first-rate, grooving naturally in time signatures like 9/4 and 13/8 (I think). The songs are also well-written and unlike most post-rock, don't wear on interminably - they explore an idea to its fullest, then stop.

Efterklang (photo by Nan Na Hvass)
Efterklang (photo by Nan Na Hvass)

As I had been told, Efterklang's live performance was excellent. At first, it seemed like the band (swollen to seven members on stage) was taking itself rather seriously, but between songs, their banter showed them to be approachable, sweet and not without a sense of humor. The music's complexity required concentration, but there was still a decent amount of movement and the band's energy and focus was plainly visible. Also, as with a band who knows how to get innovative sounds of a slew instruments, it's fascinating to see how their affects are accomplished, using everything from trumpets to kazoos. [MySpace]

Though Shilpa Ray was an odd pairing with the rest of this experimental Dutch set, I'm glad they chose it - I not only got to see a great show but also discovered a new band I'll be listening to for a long time.

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P.S. >> I forgot to tell you the best part about Efterklang! They are the first rock band I have ever seen use proper technique on the jingle bells. Seriously!

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