Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dust It Off: Big Star - #1 Record/Radio City

#1 Record/Radio City
Album: #1 Record/Radio City
Fantasy, 1992
Recording Date: 1972-1973

Mention Big Star in a room of musicians and most will probably know exactly who you're talking about - and could even name the band members and more than a few songs. But outside of the world of indie rock and rock criticism, you'll get blank stares far more often than not. And it's not that Big Star's music requires a great spirit of adventure or high level of technical understanding to appreciate - in fact, it's some of the most straightforward pop of its era.

No, Big Star were one of many victims of bad luck and poor marketing, and their albums simply never sold. But those who were in the habit of seeking out under-the-radar music found the album and it changed the course of rock history. A list of bands that include Big Star as a key influence would be too long to attempt, but it would certainly include the likes of R.E.M., Wilco, the Cars, the Smashing Pumpkins, Teenage Fanclub, Cheap Trick -- well, you get the idea.

As one of the first "power pop" bands, Big Star drew songwriting influences from the Beatles, the Byrds and the Beach Boys, but carried out these ideas with a mindset taken directly from arena rock - though Big Star may never have filled an arena, they played as though they were born in one. Even the most subdued, acoustic numbers sound like they were not only meant for the big stage but actually create the illusion of a big stage wherever they're played.

The band's first two albums, #1 Record (1972) and Radio City (1974), were combined into a single release by Stax in 1978, but the version most commonly found is the joint release first issued in 1992 by Fantasy Records. In any case, this double LP offers well over an hour of consistently excellent songs, ranging from the wistful "Ballad of el Goodo" and the simple, finger-picked folk of "Thirteen" to the guitar-rock arena-screamer "Don't Lie to Me" and the pure radio pop of "September Gurls."

Listening to Big Star, it's obvious how they became such an icon in the history of indie rock. Though their melodies were as good (no, better) than any charting band of their time, they also displayed an edgy, noisy experimentalism. "The India Song" has an arrangement that's just plain bizarre, while the unpolished aggression of "O My Soul" is far grittier than most 1974 rock. Warm ringing guitars and sweet tunes are impossible to separate from the album's dark side. The band sounds out of their time, not ahead of it, but they predict indie and alternative rock - a world where the 1960's models of radio pop, large-scale rock and arty psychedelia were reconfigured to accommodate a more versatile, more honest weapon.

It's hard to imagine what indie rock would look like if it hadn't had Big Star as a root. The good news is, we don't have to.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Upcoming Shows: No Age, Ringo Deathstarr + more

Wednesday, July 29
Two shoegaze-y shows worth checking out - and the ambitious gazer might be able to swing both, since they are not more than a fifteen minute walk apart...

Screen Vinyl Image + Violet Hour @ Annex | LES, Manhattan
The Annex can be a little creepy and pricey, but Screen Vinyl Image are worth the trouble. An extremely loud, extremely dark electro-shoegaze outfit, SVI hail from Virginia. I haven't been quite as fond of them with their new drummer, but that may just be a matter of time and adjustment. Either way, the sheer volume and density of the music is exceptional. Violet Hour are a similarly-minded duo, less dark and less heavy, with a definite arty bent. They band frequently invites guests to join for sets, making each show a new experience. Bring earplugs!!! [SVI MySpace] [VH MySpace]

Soundpool, Me You Us Them @ Webster Studio | E Village, Manhattan | $10 adv. / $12 dos.
Soundpool's rich dreampop has been an NYC favorite for years, with swirling guitars, sweet melodies and warm distortion-fuzz. Me You Us Them makes a more post-punk form of noise pop, with more focus on vocals and the occasional open space than shoegaze proper. [SP MySpace] [MYUT MySpace]

Thursday, July 30

Method Man, Ghostface Killah @ Nokia Theater | Midtown, Manhattan | $35-$40
Every time I think of specific members of the Wu-Tang Clan, I start to say, "oh, that's one of my favorites," but then I realize they are all favorites. Bring da ruckus.

Iran @ Bowery Ballroom | LES, Manhattan | $15
Destroyer is actually headlining this show, but I don't really give two shitzus about that dude. I only recently got around to seriously listening to Iran's 2009 release, and I like it a lot. The band has the guitarist from TV on the Radio and while I recognize TVOTR has made greater strides in terms of originality, on a personal level, I prefer Iran, whose indie rock is more down-to-earth and satisfyingly cynical. [MySpace]

Friday, July 31
July goes out with a bang...

River to River: Polvo, Obits @ the Seaport | Downtown, Manhattan | FREE
Polvo were one of the original Chapel Hill math rock bands of the early 90's. Labelmates of Slint, Don Caballero and the rest of the best (on Touch & Go), Polvo rock loud and hard, arty, noisy and way better than the mathy post rockers of recent years (DD/MM/YYYY, I'm looking at you!). The Obits are far more recent, and play punk that's a bit easier to digest, but similarly hardhitting and similarly intelligent. [Polvo MySpace] [Obits MySpace]

Blacklist, Ringo Deathstarr, Vandelles @ Cameo | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
WOW. WOW. WOW. Three amazing bands, goth-tinted new wavers Blacklist, shoegaze masters Ringo Deathstarr and noise-surf rockers the Vandelles. Whoever selected this lineup is positively brilliant - it has plenty of variety, but enough common ground (post-punk/Jesus & Mary Chain influences) to appeal to the same audience. Ringo Deathstarr, I firmly believe, are the best shoegaze band of the present generation, and since they live in Austin, TX, you shouldn't miss the chance to hear them whenever they pass through town. [BL MySpace] [RDS MySpace] [Vandelles MySpace]

Mekons (acoustic) @ Bell House | Gowanus, Brooklyn | $15
I would be remiss not to mention the Mekons playing in town. Seminal punk/post-punks from the late 70's UK, the Mekons are known for the artistic daring and their ability to occasionally have a sense of humor. I don't think I'm trekking to Gowanus for an acoustic set, especially when so much else amazing is happening on Friday, but they are living legends and certainly merit a mention.

Saturday, August 1

Dean & Britta, Crystal Stilts @ Prospect Park | FREE
Dean & Britta are ex-Luna, and Dean ex-Galaxie 500. The two have been known to occasionally perform songs from their old bands, but their newer material together is equally excellent. British-inflected noise-pop so charming I dare you not to love it. And the Crystal Stilts...what to even say anymore? I don't like their attitude but I sure love their music. They sound like a C-86 version of Joy Division, or for those of you who have lives and don't spend your time reading about the indie rock scene in the 1980's UK, they have awkwardly jaunty but dark baritone vocal lines, melodies frequently coming from the bass, minimalist drumming and a certain noisy, unpolished guitar sound that's subtle but beautiful. [D&B MySpace] [CS MySpace]

So So Glos, Lovvers, Sundelles, Babies @ Death By Audio | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
So So Glos are punks with bad attitudes. Who doesn't love that? Lovvers are a really excellent UK punk band I just recently reviewed. Sundelles do a good job combining old-school rock'n'roll songwriting smarts with a noise-punk sensibility. I haven't heard Babies, but it features members of Woods and Vivian Girls. Which means it could go either way - painfully boring or amazing. I don't have high hopes, but we'll see. [SSG MySpace] [Lovvers MySpace] [Sundelles MySpace]

Sunday, August 2

Deerhunter, No Age, Dan Deacon @ Williamsburg Waterfront | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | FREE
In what will probably be the best "pool party" of the summer, experimental noise rockers Deerhunter and enthusiastic noise punks No Age will share the stage. They are joined by Dan Deacon, whom I've never listened to because I find his name uninspiring (no, I don't think that's a good reason, just being honest here). What am I carrying on about? You'll be there. [DH MySpace] [NA MySpace]

Live: Abe Vigoda + Dinowalrus

When: July 17
Where: Cake Shop

As I had originally planned, I got to Cake Shop in time for Dinowalrus. Since I just reviewed them, I won't again, except to say I liked the set at Cameo a little better. This time, the songs selected just didn't seem to pack quite the same punch on average. But given how amazing the previous set was, that's not really saying anything too harsh. [MySpace]

Abe Vigoda have frequently been described as "arty" punk, but when they took the stage, I failed to see what the fuss was about. Though not as young as they look (they are actually in their very early 20's), the band did not have the musical maturity I would expect from such a highly regarded group.

Adding to the group's teenage appearance was lead singer Michael Vidal's use of his voice. He seemed slightly unused to his tenor, unnecessarily flexing it and diving into slightly uncomfortable low registers. It sounded amateur, but not in a punk rock way - whether or not it was, it sounded self-indulgent and distracted from the music.

Everyone in the group, however, showed some prowess and all managed to wrangle good noise from their instruments. There were some pretty cool guitar parts and interesting drumming (though the repeated return to marching-esque beats did grow tiresome after a while).

Lead guitarist and co-vocalist Juan Velazquez may well be the brains of the operation, providing the most interesting instrumentals and vocals alike. He also did more to address the audience than his bandmates, with an endearing habit of hoping: "This is a new song, I hope you like it," "our friends are touring with us, I hope you like them," "I hope it sounds ok out there," etc. This is not mockery, it's actually praising - it is rare and lovely to see someone constantly and genuinely concerned about the audience's experience, which is what shows should be all about.

The band put on a reasonably spirited but not above-average performance that failed to capture my attention. Though Velazquez and his bandmates may go far, I don't think I'll spend much time on this band in the future - they aren't bad, but there's more interesting music out there and I don't have time to listen to it all. [MySpace]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Live: Lovvers, Stupid Party, Darlings

When: July 16
Where: Cake Shop

A week ago, I headed to Cake Shop to catch Lovvers, a top-notch punk band from the UK whom I had yet to hear live but whose tunes have been in pretty frequent rotation on my iPod.

First up, though, was a band called Stupid Party. I should have known from that name that they would be awesome, but I hadn't really braced myself to see something really exciting.

Stupid Party are one of those bands who seem to not give a fuck at all about what people think of them. They definitely make an effort to play a good show, but without pandering or compromising. Here's the bold, determined independence rock music needs - kids are having fun and playing loud and anyone who doesn't like it can kindly piss off.

Stupid Party (photo from
Stupid Party (photo from MySpace)

The band's punky, DIY songs seemed to be written for a band just beyond their own level of technical ability - the drummer was stomping out the beats as though they were cockroaches trying to crawl away. The guitarist seemed to only remember the notes a fraction of a second before he was due to play them. Yet everything came together, a perfect balance of hooks and noise. This band is definitely a new favorite. [MySpace]

Lovvers came to my attention when San Diego's Wavves proved that bands with a double "v" in the middle of their name and a frontman with a haircut halfway between a fauxhawk and a mullet might be the very best kind of bands to listen to. So far, "vv" mullethawk bands are two for two.*

A lot of punk bands tend to sound more poppy on record and more punky live, but Lovvers are just the opposite. While their recordings are aggressively lo-fi, their live show underlined the band's 1950's roots (1950's rock being the root of all punk). They sounded more like the Ramones than like any hardcore band. Like that's a bad thing!

Singer Shaun Hencher went and jumped around with the crowd, getting in the faces of the front row and even pausing the band for a minute in order to plant a kiss on one girl in the front row. Meanwhile, the rest of the band was rocking it. Guitarist Henry Withers pogoed around the small stage while the rhythm section laid it down, loud and fast.

The band's young energy, their attentiveness to their audience, their clear enjoyment of every note, made the set impossible not to enjoy. And if that weren't enough, there's consistently exceptional songwriting and arrangement that makes Lovvers one of the stand-out punk bands today. [MySpace]

By the time the final band, Darlings, took the stage, I was kind of wiped out. I can only really handle about two excellent sets a night. So it was much to my chagrin that I discovered the third band was also going to kick serious ass.

Darlings were fairly recently featured as one of L Magazine's however-many bands you need to hear (eight?), which list I ruthlessly mocked for striking a bullseye right in the center of mediocrity. But seeing Darlings live, I have to admit they got one right.

The music sounded like it was arranged by a genuine madman. At times, the band members seemed to be attempting to play over each other in different key signatures. At others, it would sound like they'd all forgotten their parts for a few bars (but you know they hadn't because it happened the same way every time, and then SLAM, they were back in the chorus).

Darlings (photo from
Darlings (photo from MySpace)

There were shrieks, there were lovely pop melodies, there were hooks, there were squalls of noise, there was pretty much everything you could want out of a band at some point or another during the set. Both frontman Peter Rynsky and synth-player/guitarist/back-up vocalist Maura Lynch seemed strangely calm amidst the music's rush, their deliberate performance only amplifying the music's oddities.

While ultimately my least favorite band of the night (only because the other two were so amazing), Darlings are certainly worthy of note. Their charming appearance of lacking self-awareness lead to an inconsistent but riveting performance, and one I definitely wouldn't mind repeating at their next show. [MySpace]

*I am honestly not making fun of their haircuts, I actually think they both look pretty rad.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dust It Off: Alternative TV - The Image Has Cracked

The Image Has Cracked
Album: The Image Has Cracked
Deptford Fun City, 1978 [Import, 1994 (Bonus Tracks)]

In the history of punk, particularly in the UK, a brief moment occurred between the break-up of the Sex Pistols and the establishment of the major movements of post-punk. In January of 1978, the Sex Pistols parted ways without warning, and by the end of the year, Brian Eno's No New York compilation and John Lydon's Public Image Limited would begin to define the post-punk landscape. The following year saw the LP debuts of definitive British post-punks like Joy Division and the Fall, with goth, new wave and, across the Atlantic, hardcore punk not far behind.

In this period of indecision and potential, Alternative TV released their full-length debut, predicting many of the sounds that would dominate indie music in the 1980's in both the UK and the US. The Image Has Cracked keeps one foot squarely in the classic London punk tradition, but the other explores uncharted territory in every direction.

The album opens with a ten-minute live track featuring frontman Mark Perry attempting to give his audience a chance to speak into the microphone to say anything they may want to talk about. Instead of political or personal insight, all he gets is meaningless jabbering. This track shows Perry, who founded the early zine Sniffin' Glue, acting more as journalist than musician, illustrating the rapid corruption of punk's ideals.

With this almost explanatory track, Perry sets out to find a way to keep punk challenging and relevant, and he certainly succeeds. Drawing from influences as artistic as Frank Zappa (covered on the album) and krautrock (listen to the sonic experimentalism "Red"), The Image is hard to take in as a whole, especially when you get the version with eleven bonus tracks tacked on.

There are some more or less straightforward punk numbers included, such as "Action Time Vision." These fit seemlessly with longer, less conventional tracks. At six minutes, "Nasty Little Lonely" has a winding, dark groove, while the only slightly shorter "Still Life" falls halfway between goth and no wave - all while still remaining accessible.

If you can get the version with the bonus tracks, do so. It may be rather unwieldy, but it's well worth it, since the addition includes some of the most interesting tracks of all. The tight dub of "Life After Life" is among the UK punk scene's best. Pop sensibilities also crop up here with surprising clarity, including the tuneful back-up vocals masking the dark theme of "Life."

Meanwhile, the mellow blues of "Another Coke" is a shockingly intense track whose rambling lyrics fall somewhere between Neutral Milk Hotel's "Song Against Sex" and Minor Threat's similarly titled "Milk and Coke." Deeply personal social commentary, the song laments the quiet violence inherent in society's attitude towards sex and expresses Perry's longing for a more meaningful, pure existence.

As a whole, The Image Has Cracked marks the death of punk's purity and Perry holds little of himself back in mourning its passing. But it also marks the beginning of post-punk and indie music. Bouncing from the no wave-esque avant garde to Joy Division-style gloom to the youthful politicization of proto-hardcore, the album is document of ideas just one step ahead of their time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Album: Wye Oak - The Knot

The Knot
Album: The Knot
Merge, 2009 (out TODAY!)
Rating: ****** (6/10)

It was less than a year ago that I (and many people) first heard Wye Oak, a noise-folk duo from Baltimore whose self-released 2007 album's 2008 re-release on Merge made my "Best of 2008" list. I only heard of them in conjunction with all the hullabaloo they generated at CMJ last year, a well-deserved but short-lived buzz.

This album may follow fairly closely on the heels of If Children, but it's got two years' worth of new material. That time didn't bring a significant departure from the band's earlier work, but it definitely shows more signs of artistic maturity. However, despite being more sophisticated, the album is ultimately a disappointment. Perhaps it wouldn't be if everything we already knew about Wye Oak hadn't let us know they have far more potential than what they've tapped here.

The album starts with a surprisingly bold and promising move, the almost dirge-like "Milk and Honey." It's a ballsy choice as an opening track, indicating a band confident in their identity and their vision. While If Children, like most releases by any band, eases you in to the music, The Knot tosses you in the deep end and you can either turn off your stereo or learn to swim.

Unfortunately, this only makes the shortcomings of the rest of the album worse. It's clear that there is some larger vision for the record, but the execution simply doesn't stand up to that. There are a few really amazing songs, starting with "For Prayer." But there are quite a few duds as well - both "Take It In" and "Tattoo" use scales to form a large part of their irritating, redundant melodies and neither manage to generate momentum.

The rest of the album is a similar jumble of bright ideas and disappointing decisions. "Talking About Money" has a slick beat. "Mary Is Mary" has an especially beautiful and subtle melody, one of the band's finest, and while it's undoubtedly one of the album's high points, the dramatic arrangement ultimately cheapens what could have been more profoundly effecting with more subtlety. "Siamese" has intriguing production and arrangement but subpar songwriting, while "I Want For Nothing" and "Sight, Flight" have adequate melodies but sonically, boast few memorable moments.

Though more mature than If Children, The Knot left me wanting much more. Wye Oak are phenomenally talented, and I wouldn't be surprised if, a little further down the road, we'll see something monumental from them. But the problem with knowing how much they are capable of is knowing how far short they've fallen. And with this album, that's pretty far.

Live: Sisters, Coin Under Tongue, Jeff the Brotherhood

When: July 15
Where: Death By Audio

Obviously, I wouldn't miss a show featuring two of my midyear Bands to Watch in 2009 playing in their own home space, which also happens to be the city's best DIY venue. Yeah, hottt.

I named Coin Under Tongue a band to watch without having heard them live. It was a bit of a gamble, but the recorded material was so strong, it seemed worth the risk. And after all, the Death By Audio collective (A Place to Bury Strangers, Dirty On Purpose, Grooms/Muggabears, etc) has yet to produce a band that falls short of amazing.

But nothing prepared me for exactly how amazing CUT would be live. The band pumped the room so full of smoke you could barely make out the folks in front of you, let alone the stage. Then, as they slowly emerged from the murk, the band cranked out some of the heaviest, nastiest post-hardcore I've ever heard.

The distorted bass crashes through like a drunk mammoth but the man behind the sound, George Wilson (oddly enough, formerly of slowcore dream-pop outfit Dirty on Purpose) is anything but clumsy, shredding some deliciously difficult riffs. The similarly-lumbering guitar cuts like a slow-motion buzz saw while Joe Kelly howls death metal renditions of secretly lovable melodies.

The band seemed a little underrehearsed for the show, stumbling more than once. This would have bothered me more, but truthfully, it was kind of nice to see the band, though skilled, are not infallible virtuosos. I was also pleasantly surprised by the variety the band offered, some songs more gentle or even downright pretty, some faster and post-punkier, some cleaner and some noisier - you'd be hard put to accuse this band of always sounding the same.

I was excited to catch Jeff the Brotherhood knowing nothing about them, but just based on the fact that they were selected to play between CUT and Sisters. Tennessee duo set up on the floor, and though that might have been just to speed up the transition between their set and Sisters', it seemed to be an ultimate gesture of solidarity. Literally playing from the midst of their not-quite-moshing audience, the band made the fans as much a part of the experience as they themselves were.

The downside, unfortunately, was not being able to see the band, except when guitarist Jake Orrall climbed on top of the amps on stage for a moment of rock-hero posing. Still, it was worth it.

Jeff the Brotherhood (photo from
Jeff the Brotehrhood (photo from MySpace)

The entire set found me unsuccessfully groping for a reference point - though JtB doesn't sound particularly "out there," they aren't easily pigeon-holed either. There are guitar-heavy moments that take a page straight from the classic rock and metal book, while just as often, the band sounds like a tidied up lo-fi pop outfit.

Whatever it was, the songwriting was superb and the performance thrilling. JtB sound most like some lost classic from greatest moments of the 1980's American indie scene, but like a sonic chameleon, the band wouldn't sound out of place much of anywhere. It would just sound damn good. [MySpace]

Rounding out the night was Sisters, another personal favorite. Last time I saw them live, I was impressed but not blown away. This time, the band left no question of their pure awesomeness. There's something awkward about the band's two members - I could just imagine them as dorky third graders. But if they ever were, they certainly aren't dorky now.

Banging out a constant stream of lo-fi gems, Sisters are punk rock in a totally unclicheed way. Though they have some technical skill and their songs are not simplistic, the duo seems more interested in crashing and smashing and making a racket than in playing carefully.

I'm not a fan of the prerecorded parts, only because I like seeing music produced right in front of me, when I'm at a show. Still, those parts weren't too many or too involved, just an invisible third person when an invisible third person was needed.

Cramped full of hooks and bright melodies, Sisters' music is pretty hard not to love. They wouldn't even need such evident concentration and effort and such unabashed enthusiasm to win over their audience, but putting this great of a live show with this great of songs is a combination you don't want to miss. [MySpace]

Monday, July 20, 2009

Live: Mission of Burma + Fucked Up

When: July 12
Where: Williamsburg Waterfront

The McCarren Pool Parties are now minus the Pool. And minus the McCarren. But they've still got the party, and they kicked things off right this summer with this free show at their new location at the East River State Park.

I missed out on the first two acts - Jemina Pearl of Be Your Own Pet and Baltimore's illustrious Ponytail. I was bummed to miss Ponytail, because I know how amazing their live show is. Rumour is they were just as awesome on the big stage as they were in the tiny club where I saw them (in fact, certain people were texting me with things like "I can't believe you're missing this," which is hardly very nice!) So, though I can't offer a review, I can offer a plug - Ponytail are one of the most original and daring bands around today. And they kick serious ass live. [MySpace]

As for the bands I did see - the first was Fucked Up, a hardcore punk band that falls pretty far towards the "thrash" end of the spectrum. I'm not hugely into thrash or those ridiculous vocals that come with it. However, even fore the show, I suspected I might be a fan of the band live, and I was definitely not disappointed.

On the surface, Fucked Up sounds like a lot of ubermacho metal-ish bands, but, however inexplicably, Fucked Up's unleashed rage is not macho in the least. There is the presence of a woman on stage (Sandy Miranda on bass), and there's the fact that lead singer Damian Abraham publicly commented on his rather small wanker. (After stripping to his boxers, he realized it had been visible to some of the audience, and remarked "Trust me, it works just fine. I have a baby to prove it."). Indeed, his clear pride at being a new father, his willing vulnerability in undressing in front of hundreds of kids despite not having a body convention would describe as attractive and his obvious sense of humor all served to remind the audience what punk is really all about: the freaks and losers making rock music, finding community in one another and having a fuckload of fun.

Fucked Up (
Fucked Up (picture from MySpace)

Also, despite their flippant name, the group's lyrics are intellectual, their songs carefully crafted and their stage presence welcoming. As musicians, they are outstanding, perhaps not so much in terms of virtuous playing as in their complex, thoughtful arrangements featuring constant guitar interplay. My only complaint is the presence of three guitars on stage - it's no secret that I don't like superfluous musicians in a band, and there's no reason for any hardcore thrash band to need more than two guitarists. Still, that's small potatoes compared to the intense show the group delivered. [MySpace]

Headliners Mission of Burma are one of the great bands of the second wave of American punk, helping uproot hardcore and broaden punk's horizons before hardcore had even had a chance to see itself as a movement. The band has always kept their edge through a combination of exceptional songwriting, sonic unpredictability (thanks to an off-stage fourth member on "tape loops") and a certain darkness that came with the band's relative maturity at the time of their formation - they were in their mid-twenties in an era of high-school aged punks, and thus never gave themselves over to sheer manic energy at the expensive of musicianship.

I've seen the band once before since they reunited back in 2002 and both shows were amazing. Though most bands reunite for money or as an outlet for a midlife crisis, some do better than others at keeping the independent, edgy spirit of their music alive, and none I've seen have accomplished this as well as Mission of Burma. Recent releases by Dinosaur Jr and the Meat Puppets have been great, but represented a step towards convention for both bands, while MOB remains as edgy (if not necessarily as relevant) as they were in 1979.

The set list was a good mixture of new material and old classics. Of course, there were many songs I wanted to hear that didn't get played, but since the majority of the songs the band put out in its 1979-1983 incarnation are classics, it would be impossible for them to hit anywhere near everything. They were playing well and having even more fun that the crowd was - and that's a lot! And just seeing one of the great American punk bands playing against a sunset and the Manhattan skyline...unforgettable. [MySpace]

Upcoming Shows: Tyvek, Shilpa Ray + more

Wednesday, July 22
The indie pop scene in NY is not really big enough to try to split between two venues, so we'll see what happens on Wednesday.

My Teenage Stride @ Bell House | Gowanus, Brooklyn | $10
My Teenage Stride is the very first band I reviewed on this blog. I didn't want to like them, but I did, and I do. Fun, sweet indie pop played roughly but tightly, like good indie pop should be. [MySpace]

Knight School @ Bruar Falls | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $8
I haven't seen Knight School yet, despite several attempts to catch them. They come with a strong recommendation from a certain person in a certain preeminent twee band, and I like their recorded stuff pretty well. It's lo-fi pop, with outstanding songwriting buried under a solid layer of fuzz. Nothing new, but definitely something good. [MySpace]

Thursday, July 23

Shilpa Ray and Werewolves @ Death By Audio | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Two of my favorite bands. Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers consistently put on one of NYC's best live shows. Their seamless combination of influences from blues and soul to punk creates a solid rock music that's familiar but never cliche. Werewolves are less consistent live, but when they're good, they're awesome, taking psychedelic music in entirely new directions. Another blender of styles, Werewolves draw from 70's rock'n'roll, early shoegaze, campy psychobilly and whacked out art rock, but still they pack it all down into a tight, heavy pop music that's entirely unforgettable. [Shilpa Ray MySpace] [Werewolves MySpace]

Friday, July 24

Oneida + Sunburned Hand of the Man @ Market Hotel | Bushwick, Brooklyn | $8
Oneida is an experimental band that draws from krautrock and industrial, using heavy guitars, heavy electronics and sweet grooves. It's a bit repetitive and may be best heard in an altered state of mind. But no matter what state you're in, there's no denying this is one of NYC's best. Sunburned Hand of the Man is a noise band that Thurston Moore likes and put on his Ecstatic Peace label. They are a little too formless for my liking, but you could definitely do worse for an opening act! [Onieda MySpace] [SHOTM MySpace]

Saturday, July 25

Tyvek @ Cake Shop | LES, Manhattan | $10
Everyone who was at the Woodsist Festival missed one of the crowd's best bands, who had to cancel due to a medical emergency. The good news is that everyone is OK and that they are in NY this weekend. Detroit punks with more heart than an iditerod of sled dogs, Tyvek are nothing short of thrilling live. Really and truly, do not miss them. [MySpace]

Sunday, July 26

Blank Dogs @ Secret Project Robot | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $8
Lo-fi goth pioneer Mike Sniper and his band will perform at one of the few remaining DIY spots this weekend. So far, I haven't been that into the live act, but the music is so good, it's still worth checking out. [MySpace]

Coyote Eyes, Spanish Prisoners @ Cameo | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Coyote Eyes are NYC's finest emerging post-punk band. They are a great live act and getting better all the time. Great melodies, noise-rock guitars, excellent beats, all of this adds up to one delicious set. Plus, they are joined by the very decent Spanish Prisoners, known for staying sonically interesting while playing some pretty straightforwardly charming songs. [MySpace] [MySpace]

Friday, July 17, 2009

Live: Japandroids + Little Girls, Dinowalrus

When: 7/10
Where: Cameo

I first heard the name Dinowalrus ages ago, probably well before I even started this blog. I didn't get around to listening until about six months ago, when the band e-mailed me a song. I listened to that song and my feelings on it were so neutral that I lost what interest I had (despite the band being named after a hybrid of two very badass critters).

It recently occurred to me, however, that this might be just the kind of band I need to hear live to appreciate. So I arrived early to Cameo to catch their set, and I can't begin to tell you how glad I am that I did.

Now, I know I've said about a handful of drummers that they were among the best I'd ever seen, so let me be perfectly clear - none of the drummers I've ever mentioned on this blog could hold a candle to Josh (I dunno his last name). He wasn't always in the band and it's kind of hard to imagine them before his arrival, because while the other two members are talented, his playing is what sets the band far ahead of its peers. It's not only the speed and complexity with which he plays, nor is it just the rich sounds he pulls out of his drums, it's the absolutely brilliant beats he uses. Few rock drummers even attempt syncopation and polyrhythm and most who do fall flat; it's extremely rare to find a drummer in rock music for whom breakbeats are second nature.

Dinowalrus (photo by Ted Gordon)
Dinowalrus (photo by Ted Gordon)

The other two band members aren't far behind in terms of technical skill. Their metalloid riffs, noise-rock freakouts and electropop grooves combine seamlessly. The wildman chemistry between Josh and guitarist/vocalist Pete Feigenbaum is explosive, while Kyle (again of indeterminate last name) has a calm, grounding presence on stage. Still, his steady concentration on his simultaneous bass and synth parts is anything but tame - after all, sometimes quiet insanity can be the most captivating.

I still have no real desire to listen to Dinowalrus on record - their lack of structure does not mix well with my lack of concentration. But I will be checking them out live as often as possible. Starting tonight at Cake Shop with Abe Vigoda. And know if you miss this show, you will have to live with that shame for the rest of you life. [MySpace]

I recently reviewed Little Girls' performance at the Woodsist Festival but it was good to hear them in a room that wasn't 105 degrees. In general, the acoustics were better except for the fact that the sound guy was asleep at the wheel - the band went most of a song without vocals and terrible feedback problems were still unresolved by the last song of the set.

Despite the hurdles, the band delivered a compelling if strange performance. The band members seem bizarrely disconnected from one another on stage - they play tightly, but with a palpable distance that fits well with the moody isolation of the music. The dramatics of frontman Josh McIntyre seem slightly put on, but his nervous energy is no doubt genuine. The dark bass riffs and reverbed, trebly guitar are fitting Joy Division-esque post punk, but there's something new here too, a genuine urgency as the young band begins to discover their own sound. [MySpace]

As for headliners Japandroids, I can't say I was ahead of the curve on loving them - Pitchfork was all over them before I gave them a try, but for the few weeks before this show, I was listening to their new album nearly non-stop. It's pop-punk at its best - simple and raw, youthful, catchy, and loud.

I wish I hadn't seen the band live. It's not that they aren't good - in fact, the band's two members are both excellent musicians and really rock out on stage. It's just that it was disillusioning to learn that a band that sounds so genuinely punk is really quite the opposite.

Reduced to its purest essence, punk has always been defined by its attempts to tear down the boundaries between musician and audience. Punk is the ultimate rejection of rock star idolatry. And as such, it's everything Japandroids are not. Guitarist Brian King soundchecked by moaning a pseudo-melody into the microphone for five minutes straight. Now, to be clear, King has an adequate voice, but despite his obvious conviction to the contrary, not one of remarkable beauty in any way.

The band members are older than I expected, given the adolescent sound of their music and lyrics. That in itself is not really a problem, but the band's blatant rockstar posing - including, hand to God, a fan positioned to give King's curls that windswept look - belies their innocent-sounding songs and that innocent-looking photo on the front of their album. These aren't exuberant young kids just trying to have fun, these are pop-idol wannabes.

Even the way they spoke to the audience between songs was condescending - they explained that they would be playing songs other than those from their recent album in order to play a decent-length set. Now, I applaud playing a good long set, but the band didn't have to explain that they'd be playing songs we might not know - I mean, assuming we all know all the songs on their album, assuming that we're all so unfamiliar with the ways of rock bands as to need some explanation for the set list, assuming there is a fundamental difference between them (rock stars) and us (fans).

That Japandroids have an attitude fundamentally opposed to everything punk stands for, that they are co-opting punk music to achieve the same ends as any contestant on American Idol, that they would rather be Elvis Presley than Johnny Rotten - none of this changes the fact that Post-Nothing is one of the best releases of 2009. What the show shattered was the hope that it might also be one of the year's most inspiring. Yeah, they're good, but kids, no matter what Japandroids say, DO try this at home.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Live: Jay Reatard

When: 7/1
Where: Stuyvensant Oval

I've obviously fallen hopelessly behind on my live reviews, but I'm trying to catch up. Summer is not a good time for deadlines and work ethic, I hope you can excuse the delays!

Jay Reatard is a junior high dropout who makes sharp, burning garage punk, packed to capacity with bright hooks and riffs. I'd heard his live show was even more exciting than his recordings, so I was pretty eager to check it out.

My reaction was mixed however. On the one hand, the band, whose proto-grunge hair-metal look was straight out of 1988 Seattle, rocked hard. Head banging, unwashed hair flying, Flying V's wailing, this is rock music at it's rockin'est. Visually, the band reminds me of the Meat Puppets in more ways than one, and there's some parallels between their music. From Reatard and his band's fashion and their technique, it's clear they don't reject all rock traditions. Like the Meat Puppets, they are punk rock but don't throw the baby out with the bath water. There's nothing wrong with nice lead guitar work and a nice head of hair.

On the other hand, Reatard's fast and frantic delivery obscured many of the hooks in both the vocals and the guitar. If I weren't familiar with a lot of the songs, I would have been unimpressed, since without their strong tunes at the forefront, they all sounded the same.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the show, but for new listeners, I'd highly recommend checking out some of the recorded singles before showing up at a concert. Reatard may blast energetic garage noise better than most people around, but its his songwriting that makes him worthy of your attention. And you might not hear that at the show, but you can't miss it on a single released track of his recent career.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Upcoming Shows: Wavves, Lovvers + more

Tomorrow! Wednesday, July 15
An obscenely difficult choice...

Wavves, Woods, Real Estate @ Bowery Ballroom | LES, Manhattan | $13 adv./$15 dos.
Wavves is Nathan Williams. Nathan Williams is a young kid from San Diego who writes simple, lo-fi pop tunes, and those songs are everything rock music should be - loud, fun and entirely independent. Woods are a gently haunting, melancholy folk-pop band and another one of the year's best. I think Real Estate is boring and overrated, but people whose opinions I respect keep saying otherwise, so maybe you should give them a chance too? [Wavves MySpace] [Woods MySpace] [RE MySpace]

Sisters, Coin Under Tongue @ Death By Audio | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $?
Two of my "Bands to Watch in [the Rest of] 2009", playing on their home turf at Death By Audio - what more could you want? You know playing in a familiar location and with a bill of close friends is going to mean both these bands play their very best. Sisters' lo-fi punk may be an odd combination with the mammoth post hardcore of Coin Under Tongue, but variety is the spice of life. Or something. [Sisters MySpace]

Thursday, July 16

Lovvers @ Cake Shop | LES, Manhattan | $10
Lovvers are h an awesome punk band, with a pop sensibility that doesn't make them sound wimpy or like they are fourteen years old. Their music is truly in the spirit of garage rock and early punk - raw and technically unsophisticated, but with an inspired maturity behind the bright energy. They are coming in from the UK, so don't miss them when you have the chance! [MySpace]

Friday, July 17

Abe Vigoda, Dinowalrus @ Cake Shop | LES, Manhattan | $10
Abe Vigoda is one of the better LA punk bands. They are at the youthful, pop-accessible end of the hardcore punk spectrum, and I bet they are fun live. Dinowalrus is a New York band I've been avoiding for ages because I wasn't a huge fan of their recorded material. But I finally went to see them this past weekend and without getting ahead of myself (I will be writing a review), they are AMAZING live. I mean, really, really, really amazing. [AV MySpace] [Dino MySpace]

Saturday, July 18

SIREN FESTIVAL @ Coney Island | Coney Island, Brooklyn | FREE!!!
This two-stage festival is free. If it cost money, I probably wouldn't recommend it, since I'm ambivalent-to-apathetic on most of the acts. But for free, it's WAY worth it. Bands include:
- Built to Spill (sad 90's indie music who I kind of think feel sorry for themselves too much, but who are pretty well loved)
- Raveonettes (Jesus & Mary Chain-y noise pop, a little boring for my tastes, but not bad)
- Frightened Rabbit (Scottish cry-in-your beer music that's kind of shameful mope-pop but that's also really, really irresistible)
- A Place to Bury Strangers (easily the best band of the day, loud loud and loud shoegaze/psychedelic/noise rock that will split your eardrums with screaming feedback and distortion, delivered by an extremely talented and enigmatic three-piece)
- Thee Oh Sees (solid if un-special DIY punk/pop with excellent musicianship and some fun melodies)
- Japandroids (a great punk-pop band, but I'd actually avoid seeing them live if you like their recorded material - technically, they're great live, but their attitude makes the true spirit of punk turn over in its shallow grave)
- Bear Hands (poppy rock music that's undeniably solid, well-arranged and well-played, if not groundbreaking)
...and more.
[Official Festival Website]

Friday, July 10, 2009

Live: Dinosaur Jr. + Screaming Females

When: 6/25
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg

Though I'd heard the name Screaming Females around a lot before this show, I hadn't bothered to look into the band. I figured I only have room in my brain for just so many bands with feminine names (Women, Sisters, Girls, Little Girls, Some Girls, etc. etc.). Given all these bands, it somehow never occurred to me that "Screaming Females" might be literal, not ironic.

As it happens the band features only one female, but she's definitely screaming and she definitely owns the show. Vocalist and guitarist Marissa Paternoster does shriek more than sing, but what she really does is play the guitar better than just about anyone else around. Her songs are a constant barrage of shredding solos and post-hardcore freakouts.

Paternoster is one of the best guitarists I've seen in ages ever. I'd be happy to see a guitarist this exciting in any form, but having a woman as one of the finset emerging guitarists makes me feel a bit better about everything. While women have made huge in-roads into the world of rock, especially since the riot grrrls of the 90's, virtuoso guitar in metal (even post-punk indie metal) is still uncharted territory. Knowing how difficult it still is for a female musician to earn respect in any music scene, I've got to salute Paternoster not only for her mad skillz, but also for the strength of character it must have taken for her to chose such an unlikely musical path.

Of course, she's not the only member of the band. The two men who share the stage with her are also excellent musicians, blasting out a rock-solid rhythm section strong enough to carry Paternoster's most blazing solos. The three showed a strong musical chemistry that's not easily faked, locking together effortlessly.

Ultimately, though, I didn't personally enjoy the set as much as I wish I could have. That's strictly a matter of personal taste, though - as with many metal-influenced bands, Screaming Females use chromatic scales as their palette, and chromatic scales don't speak to me. For that reason, I'll probably always prefer the only-slightly-less-intense music of Marnie Stern. But I'm glad to have seen Screaming Females and I'm glad they are finally getting some of the attention they clearly deserve. [MySpace]

We were hoping that given the unhappy events of June 25, we might be the one audience ever treated to Dinosaur Jr. covering Michael Jackson. No such luck, but the set was far beyond needing a trick like that to make it memorable. Dinosaur Jr. was one of the great American punk/post-punk bands of the 80's, without whom we'd have no grunge, no shoegaze and certainly no guitar solos like Screaming Females' in our indie music.

After a very unamicable split in the early 90's, Dinosaur reunited a few years ago and recently came out with their second post-reunion LP, Farm. I didn't listen to Farm after it came out, assuming it would be a disappointment. But just before I went to this show, the guy who shares my office told me that he'd been listening to the album non-stop, and a recommendation from him was pretty trustworthy so I checked it out. And it fuckin' rocks.

So I wasn't surprised when show rocked as well. J. Mascis has a reputation as a brilliant guitarist, but when listening to the recordings, it's easy to forget how talented Lou Barlow (bass) and Murph (drums) are as a rhythm section. Barlow's dynamic, heavy hooks make him one of my favorite bassists of all time, and though Mascis has tried to take sole credit for the group's success, seeing them reunited and live proves otherwise.

It seems the extreme tension - at times, hatred - between Barlow and Mascis has faded with age. The unspoken rage that has always hovered between them on stage is part of what has always made their live show so thrilling, and it's a little less fun when it no longer seems likely that one will brain the other with a guitar midway through the show. But they aren't buddy-buddy either - they did not engage each other once during the show (until the encore), Barlow instead exchanging smiles and words with Murph. Mascis was the visible loner, as far way on stage as he could get from the others, though he occasionally addressed Murph, good-naturedly enough.

Though touring to support their new album, Dinosaur treated the audience to a surprising number of old classics. And the new material, as I've mentioned, is great too, stronger in melody and less murky in arrangement than many of the older songs. This may make them a bit more conventional, but there's nothing wrong with that - they're still classic Dinosaur.

Most importantly, the band seemed to be having fun. A cynic like me would assume the reunion was only about the bottom line, and that might be a big part of it, but the band also loves being on stage and loves playing their music. Mascis may have a bit of a perma-frown, but Barlow and Murph looked like they were back in their element - only this time, after years of stress and resentment, they're letting loose and doing it right. [MySpace]

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Live: Woodsist Festival Recap (Day 2)

The second day of the Woodsist/Captured Tracks festival was moved outside to its originally-intended venue, a vacant lot down the block from Market Hotel, just under the train tracks. And despite the trains rumbling by overhead and the echos off the buildings, the space was great acoustically and aesthetically.

I arrived later than I'd planned to and missed Brilliant Colors, who I heard were outstanding. I'm really bummed about that, since they live way over the West Coast and there's no telling when they'll be back.

I did arrive in time for the Fresh & Onlys, a band whose name I've heard around a lot lately. I was disappointed - their music was generic and unmemorable, just your typical semi-sedated lo-fi punk with listenable but not catchy melodies and unchanging, standard guitar-drum-bass arrangements. There was a synth/sampler but it was often hard to pick out of the sound, since it often played exactly the same part as the guitar and bass. Yaaawn. [MySpace]

One thought that crossed my mind while watching the Fresh & Onlys: at least in the 90's, we let the girls play bass. Now, I understand that sometimes you want a female vocalist or find one who is good and the rest of the people in the band happen to be guys, and that's fine. But in this scene (beyond the scope of this festival) women are disproportionately relegated to backup or co-lead vocals and tambourine, and they're often not even good at that. It may not be anyone's fault, but it's still a bad sign that girls aren't encouraged to pick up instruments or aren't encouraged to join bands. Something is wrong.

Next up were Dum Dum Girls, who at first glance may appear to fall in that same troubling pattern. But there's a huge difference: in both Dum Dum Girls and the Mayfair Sect, Kristin "Dee Dee" Gundred is a phenomenal singer and a solid songwriter. And it seems she has creative control over the music in both bands, unlike many of the tambourine-shaking ladies around. Crystal Stilts' Frankie Rose also joined in on drums, but even if Gundred had been the only woman on stage, I couldn't fault the band. Strong melodies, well-delivered, with a masterful instrumental back-up from Rose, Crocodiles' Brandon Welchez (Gundred's husband, in fact) and Blank Dog/Mayfair Sect's Mike Sniper - definitely one of the highlights of the festival. [MySpace]

Sadly for all attendees, Michigan's excellent punks Tyvek were forced to cancel because (rumor has it) their bassist, Shelley Salant, landed in the hospital this weekend. The good news is that she's OK and that the band will be in New York on July 24 (@ Silent Barn) and July 25 (@ Cake Shop). [MySpace]

Both Woods and Kurt Vile played louder, more aggressive sets than I expected. Perhaps it was the acoustics, perhaps it was the spirit of the day, but both seemed to crank it up. This is really neither good nor bad - I like things loud and distorted but both these bands have such great songs that volume and distortion are irrelevant - their songwriting outshines everything else.

Woods played a thrilling set of many of their best songs, sounding, as always, like an oddly distant, distorted version of Neil Young or the Byrds. Their melodies are sweet folk pop, but their sounds are subtly unsettling. One of the best. [MySpace]

I can't get as into Kurt Vile - he has some good songs, but ultimately, I found the whole thing a little dull for my tastes. That said, if you're into folk and not looking for constant hooks and uptempos, you'll probably love him - he's doing a lot right, for sure. [MySpace]

My dislike of the Vivian Girls is no secret, despite how much I want to like them. Given my lowest of low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised. Their delivery was punkier than I'd anticipated and they have actually started moving when playing. The fast, loud, crashing drums helped immensely. However, after a couple songs, I did reach my usual state of boredom. The band's "melodies" are rarely more than three or four notes and their "solos" or "jams" or whatever they are meant to be usually consist of a single chord and go on way too long. If the Vivian Girls made songs clocking it at a minute or two instead of five, I might actually enjoy them. [MySpace]

I had high hopes for Thee Oh Sees, but my reaction was mixed. On the one hand, they followed the whole mediocre-female-singer-with-tambourine concept and there wasn't anything special about them to set them apart from the rest of the bands - they sounded kind of like a recap of the festival, but not in an interesting way.

On the other hand, their delivery was lively and engaging and their arrangements well-conceived. They put their heart into playing and it showed. They also had better vocal lines than many of the day's bands. Still, though, there wasn't enough substance to hold my attention for long. They were fun, but as far as I saw, nothing to write home about and certainly a big creative step down from Woods, Blank Dogs and even Crystal Stilts. [MySpace]

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Live: Woodsist Festival Recap (Day 1)

A couple of days at the Woodsist/Captured Tracks Festival is all it takes to illustrate how inbred the DIY scene truly is. There were so many members shared between bands that the event simply seems like a quick run-through of all the three-to-five person permutations possible with a dozen core members. (OK, math nerds, settle down. Permutations, not combinations, because sometimes they just rotate instruments.)

Some of the Woodsist bands are outstanding and several (Wavves, Woods, Crystal Stilts, Little Girls, etc.) number among my recent favorites, but with such a closed circle, it seems like the musicians and the small movement they've created is hurtling towards an artistic dead end. The festival was the culmination of a year and a half of well-deserved success, but seeing so many of the bands play in short succession was just watching them paint themselves into a corner.


The first band I caught was the Mayfair Sect, the debut of a collaboration between Kristen Gundred, the sole member of Dum Dum Girls, and Mike Sniper, the sole member of Blank Dogs - joined by members of Woods to round out the live band. Since Sniper also joined Gundred for the (also first-ever) Dum Dum Girls set on Saturday, the whole thing seemed a bit redundant. But in any case, Gundred has a powerful voice, one of the best of the festival, and Sniper's baritone is not far behind. The songs and performance were solid, but unremarkable - it seems like we've heard this all before.

Little Girls followed, a band "Jasper" recently recommended. Having seen them live, I can stand behind that recommendation even more confidently. The sound in Market Hotel was awful, and almost every band of the night sounded off-key. Little Girls were no exception, but their performance was far less aloof than many of the other bands and the dark tints in their music set them apart from the pack.

Similarly unaloof, Cause Co-Motion! gave an outstanding performance, tearing it up (literally, tearing up some of the stage's paper decorations) and jumping around like fourteen-year-old hardcore punks. However, the venue's poor sound, combined with the band's decision to deliver their songs in extra fast, extra messy punk fashion, ruined the set. I like extra fast and extra messy, but CCM aren't a punk band, they're a lo-fi pop band, and with their melodies falling flat, there was little to listen to. I had fun watching, but my ears were just plain bored.

I was glad to finally catch Psychedelic Horseshit, a band that's managed to generate some publicity simply by being arrogant and rude. Not all that surprisingly, the music sucked. The band seems out to destroy, and while I'm all about destruction, the secret truth is that you've got to do more than tear things down. No harmonies, no melodies, no songs, nothing but vocal snarls, guitar noise and primal drums. The most interesting part of the music were some dual rhythms with no apparent alignment; that was pretty cool, but the novelty did wear off eventually. I found it difficult to listen to the rest, which lacked bass or any low-register notes besides the bass drum. I do have some respect for the band and their willingness to negate everything. Still, making ugly noise to piss people off isn't exactly original.

Though I didn't like Blank Dogs last time I caught them live, their recorded material has really grown on me over the last few months, and I was excited to give the band another chance. Unfortunately, I still didn't like what I saw. If Sniper surrounded himself with other musicians who shared his dark vision, Blank Dogs could be a great live act. However, those who joined Sniper on stage didn't seem hip to his music's murky, gothic undertow. The band played as though they were playing with any other Woodsist band, confusing and obscuring the elements that make Blank Dogs unique.

Headliners Crystal Stilts delivered the most energetic performance I've seen from them to date - though that's not really saying much. They did do far better than the rest of the day's bands (Mayfair Sect possibly excepted) in overcoming the acoustic difficulties - their melodies were clear and in tune and their instruments distinct and balanced.

Despite a few changes (drummer Frankie Rose finally sitting down, for one), the band is doing pretty much what they have been, and their songs still sound disappointingly alike. A few of their more uptempo songs stood out in the set and the rest were at least enjoyable. It was nice to see the band finally having some fun too, dropping their detached posturing and really playing a heartfelt show for a room full of friends.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Upcoming Shows: Japandroids, Mission of Burma + more

TONIGHT - Monday, July 6

Peter Murphy @ Highline Ballroom | Chelsea, Manhattan | $35
Pete Murphy is the original goth, the frontman of Bauhaus.

TOMORROW - Tuesday, July 7

Peter Murphy @ Highline Ballroom | Chelsea, Manhattan | $35
See above.

Wednesday, July 8

Sundelles, Little Girls @ Cake Shop | LES, Manhattan | $7
I haven't seen the Sundelles, but they're meant to play garagey indie pop - 50's revival with a punk 'tude. People like them. Little Girls are one of the five bands I've recommended you watch in the rest of 2009 - a recommendation made by "Jasper" but which I can now more confidently confirm, having seen them at this weekend's Woodsist/Capture Tracks festival. Dark and gloomy DIY punk from Canada that's very worth checking out. [Sundelles MySpace] [Little Girls MySpace]

Thursday, July 9

MC Lyte @ Von King Park | Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn | FREE!
MC Lyte is one the greatest MCs ever, and was one of the first women to get behind a mic and rap. She was a revolutionary, paving the way for women in hip-hop and expanding the boundaries of what rap music could say and do. I'd pay way more than $0 to check this out.

Friday, July 10

Japandroids, Little Girls @ Cameo | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $8
Japandroids have recently become one of my favorite new bands. Like No Age but more conventional and with more tightly-written songs, Japandroids offer an amazing mix of roaring noise, punk energy and infectious melody. This is what pop-punk should have been. I just told you about Little Girls (see Wednesday listing). [Japandroids MySpace] [Little Girls MySpace]

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart @ South Street Seaport | Downtown Manhattan | FREE!
The Pains have got nothing on Japandroids, but they are pretty good pop music that the kids are crazy for. Their ascent from playing loft parties to a few dozen friends to scoring full features in Spin and Newsweek has been dizzying and makes me kind of want to hate them. But I can't hate them because they are nice people, outstanding songwriters and great performers. Like I said, you should go see Japandroids, but if don't have eight bucks, this FREE show is a pretty sweet alternative. [MySpace]

Saturday, July 11

Japandroids @ Pianos | LES, Manhattan | SOLD OUT!
Japandroids rock. (See above.) [MySpace]

Parts and Labor @ Market Hotel | Bushwick, Brooklyn | $7-20 (donation)
Parts and Labor are a super-rad NYC band. They play experimental rock that can be kind of like Oneida and kind of like Liars and often like no one else in particular. They have some very pop moments and some very weird ones, inhabiting the no man's land between pop music and noise-rock more fully and broadly than any of their contemporaries. Since you went to see Japandroids on Friday and Pianos is sold out anyway, you'll want to head over to Market Hotel on Saturday night. [MySpace]

Sunday, July 12

Mission of Burma, Fucked Up, Ponytail @ Williamsburg Waterfront | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | FREE!!
Daaaamn. Mission of Burma has been redefining indie, punk and noise since the early 80's and their reunion a few years ago came a surprise to those familiar with the band's good-natured break-up, meant to save the last remaining shreds of Roger Miller's hearing. Better earplug technology has allowed them to regroup and play awesome shows like this. Fucked Up are one of the best hardcore punk groups around these days, and as for Ponytail, they are amazing live as well as recorded. [MOB MySpace] [FU MySpace] [Ponytail MySpace]

Live: Brief Candles

A quick trip through Midwest in mid-June may have cost me the chance to see the Northside Festival, but the silver lining was the chance to finally drop in on one of my favorite shoegaze bands, Milwaukee natives the Brief Candles.

The band's live show is one of the most literally "shoegazing" I've seen, but surprisingly, not in a bad way. Sharing the front were Kevin Dixon and Jen Boniger, both on guitar and lead vocal duties, and they did spend a lot of the set focused on their expansive pedal boards. But their downward focus was intense and unreserved - these may not be your typical audience-engaging singers, but their passion and energy were unmistakable.

The set was obstructed by numerous technical problems, most notably in the volume of Boniger's microphone. The first few songs were plagued with feedback, and for most of the rest of the set, she was barely audible. At times, the levels seemed to fluctuate every few seconds, with one line loud and clear, the next completely lost.

Given this and a slew of other minor technical difficulties, the band carried on with remarkable determination, neither resigning themselves to the imperfections nor obsessing over them so much as to kill the momentum of the set - between songs, adjustments and repairs were attempted while the band continued to address the audience with banter or noise.

Bassist Drew Calvetti rounded out the band's heavy sound remarkably, while drummer Jake Bohannen stopped the music from getting bogged down in its own weight. Both are fun to watch, and stylistically, both betray a striking similarity to early (i.e. best) work of their Midwestern neighbors the Smashing Pumpkins - that delicious sound of shoegaze meets Joy Division meets grunge.

A few errors did emerge, including the presence of a fifth band member lurking near the back, whose purpose remained unclear to me throughout the show. Many songs also wore on a little too long, with composition lost amid aimless drifting. This problem, however, is less troubling live than on the band's recordings, because the band's compelling stage presence provides interest where the music falls short.

The Candles were welcoming and their performance heartfelt. They even attempted to accommodate audience requests (though sadly, they declined to perform their 2006 masterpiece "So Long"). Despite the technical glitches and imperfections, I couldn't wish for a more satisfying sheogazey night.