Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A San Francisco Jazz Show, Banjo-Style

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones have a short residency at the Blue Note starting Wednesday, December 17th. If their show at Yoshi's in San Francisco last month is any indication of what to expect, then their gigs here in New York should NOT be missed. Although, with these guys, it's hard to ever know just what to expect...

written for CabaretExchange.com:

What does it mean to defy expectations as a jazz quartet? It means to feature, even star, a banjo instead of a guitar. Two banjos, in fact: an acoustic one and a purple electric one. It means to play the banjo with such silky delicacy and to illicit notes from the electric bass at such extreme ends of the musical scale that the absence of a guitar goes unnoticed. It means to open a set with a song deeply rooted in funk music, move into a medley of Christmas songs and then add some sprinklings of bluegrass here and there to taste. To defy expectations means, at the end of the day, to play like Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Keep reading...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why 'The Hot Left' is Hot...

Music is starting to trickle through town from Brooklyn band The Hot Left, especially now that they have officially released their first album. The collection of ten songs starts off with a bang and moves through diverse musical styles and lyrical themes to end on gentler, more contemplative fare. As a whole, the songs feature catchy guitar hooks (with lead singer David Feddock on guitar and Chris Olson on electric bass), driving tempos (from Pat Van Dyke on drums) and ambitious vocals (despite the occasional unbalanced harmonies). Feddock has written lyrics that are witty yet still reveal an appealing vulnerability behind his rough-edged vocals.

What is most unique (or Hot?) about these guys is their ability to dramatize everyday activities in Brooklyn, charged with toe-tapping rhythms and energetic melodies. From the pain of "It's eight o'clock in the morning and the landlord's running the vacuum", to the familiar relief of "I crack a little smile as I jump the turnstile... right on time again [for the Q train]" to the upbeat but bluesy lamenting of "Stuck in Brooklyn all alone", these songs are like a bright soundtrack for the lives of anyone dealing with the trials and tribulations of New York City.

Photo of David Feddock (left) and Chris Olson (right) from their MySpace photo album

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Some Noise from the Silent Years

As published on WirelessBollinger:
At nine months old, Josh Epstein used to hum in his crib. A prodigy? No, “just an infant that hummed”, he humbly clarifies. From little things big things grow, and now he is the lead singer of a Detroit band called The Silent Years who have just released their third album The Globe.

Their new album is “about the universality of everything,” Epstein explains, “Everyone’s got these problems, and I’m not saying that one is more real than the other, but they’re both equally real to the person who’s experiencing them at the time. The really rich kid in Long Island who’s upset that he didn’t get a BMW for his 16th birthday and the really poor kid in Harlem who’s really upset that he didn’t get, you know, breakfast. They’re both really upset. And while you might say the latter example has the real conflict, they’re both real to those who are experiencing them and the person in Long Island has absolutely no clue in most instances that there’s someone else with a problem that’s greater than their own and that feeling of pain is very real.” keep reading...

Photo of Josh Epstein from the live show at the Hiro Ballroom, NYC

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"You Gotta Get A Gimmick..."

Ultimately as a performer, success comes down to talent. But having a gimmick sure helps to make one talented musician or artist stand out amongst the thousands of others.
In this regard, Minneapolis based band Cloud Cult is good to go on their road towards success.

The seven-member band, who headlined at the Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday night, includes not only an electric cello and violin, electric guitars and drums, but also two live artists. As in, visual artists: painters. It doesn't even seem appropriate to diminish this aesthetic element by deeming it a "gimmick". But in a sense, that's exactly what it is, since it is a trait entirely unique to this group of talented musicians- who could stand out on the radar for that fact alone.

Not to mention the versatility of their sound, as the songs grow from simple lines of gentle strings (beautifully drawn from the violin by Shannon Frid) or acoustic story-telling (by lead singer and guitarist Craig Minowa) to all-out psychedelic jamming or syncopated rock. Or the trombone might come out, and everything takes a turn for something new and different altogether.

The energy onstage is contained but not stifled; the musicians are comfortable working the room and having a dialogue with the ecstatic, overpacked crowd. They put on no airs of celebrity or rockstar: they just show up to play really awesome music. Minowa humbly affirmed that "it's not a given that people are going to come out to hear us play. We know that there are tons of options for music here and we're really grateful that you all chose us".

It would be a shame not to, seeing as the band tours very rarely (and when else is there the opportunity to bid on an iconic painting done onstage by band members?). Their CDs will have to suffice in the meantime; to quench the appetite of all the die-hard fans who are, admittedly, in on some kind of secret. Although, once you've headlined at the Bowery Ballroom, news will get out pretty quickly.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Makin' News:

f you're not already familiar with Gringo Star, from Atlanta, you better hurry up. The band is up-and-coming in the Indie scene, and they're coming up quick. I saw them play as part of the CMJ Festival at the Delancey (see post below) and was instantly struck by their raucus sound, their unique energy and their standout skills.
My opinion of them has been justified, to some extent, as they were just named Artist of the Day on Spin.com. Read the article here!
They have a new album out, which you can download here ;
or if you prefer to test drive their music first, catch a video of them on Have You Heard here ;
or listen to them jam on Matt Pinfield's show here!
What are you waiting for?? Go!
As published on WirelessBollinger.com

The Theater Fire, a melting pot of a band from Ft. Worth Texas, played from the fittingly old-fashioned stage at Union Pool in Brooklyn on October 17th. Setting up before the act was almost as much of a production as the act itself, but all was warranted as the seven men launched into beautifully complex songs, pulling more and more instruments out to infuse the down-home country sound with sprinklings of mariachi, zydeco, bluegrass, polka and rock... read more!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Lesson in Cabaret

As published on CabaretExchange.com

abaret is one of the most misunderstood yet most loosely defined art forms. And although it is considered a "fragile" art, it is not dying. The nineteenth annual Cabaret Convention presented by the Mable Mercer Foundation proves why, and is like a crash course in this unparalleled art. read more...

photo of Mabel Mercer from Wikipedia.com

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Well it's that time of year again: yes, fall, but also the season for the CMJ Annual Music Festival. For anyone outside of the Industry-meets-Indie Music Scene in New York (or non-avid readers of music blogs), CMJ (College Music Journal) puts on a five day festival featuring over 1,100 bands (many of them locals in NYC and Brooklyn) scattered throughout the city's best music venues as well as private lofts and random spaces (like clothing stores). It is, in effect, the New York version of SXSW. Maybe one day it will be as reputable and all-consuming, but for now, it at least provides for some good entertainment and yet another excuse for New Yorkers to rush all over the city.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------||| Detroit natives, The Silent Years, played the Hiro Ballroom on Thursday night. They were victim to some bad sound engineering which upset the balance of their somewhat experimental rock music, but luckily did not affect their gracious energy. Lead singer/guitarist Josh Epstein fashioned a microphone inside of a telephone receiver which lent a surprising box-recorded effect to his soaring vocals. At the end of the set, keyboard/violinist Cassandra Verras and Epstein, danced off the stage with their instruments and tried to rally within the extended crowd. There was a little too much empty space to achieve the desired effect, but it was a nice try.
||| The Age of Rockets took the stage next. Their sound is about percussion (through a variety of elements), synthesizers, lulling bells and strings and melodic vocals. If only lead singer Andrew Futral wouldn't try to make jokes between songs: like slipping arsenic into a good glass of whiskey.
Photo from the band's Myspace album

||| Things got a little more post-punk over at the Delancey when Brooklyn band Freshkills took the stage. The four member unit is tightly knit and near perfectly orchestrated, albeit a little intense. The stark contrast between lead singer Zachary's concentrated stillness and guitarist Johnny's risk of internally combusting from the sheer force with which he played was entertaining in and of itself.
||| Gringo Star, from down south Atlanta, moved in on the stage at the Delancey next. These four guys are the ultimate definition of musicians. They cannot be labeled as 'drummer', 'guitarist', 'singer', etc. because, like a game of musical chairs (or instruments), they rotated roles throughout the set (which only made them all the more impressive both individually and collectively).
Their bright, upbeat songs have a bounciness, highlighted by the physical bouncing of these precise and perfectly synchronized young men on stage as they effortlessly and playfully blasted their way through the songs.
||| Scouting for Girls opened the British showcase (yes, they are from the UK) sponsored by East Village Radio on Wednesday afternoon at Lil' Frankie's Pizza on 1st Avenue. With songs all about unrequited love and broken hearts, this band, who for obvious reasons are more reminicscent of the Beatles than the Beach Boys (who they feel their sound resembles), come across as your classic tale of grade school geeks turned rockstars. Their bright, poppy sound with fluid harmonies is pleasant and perfectly packaged for soundtracks on teenage dramas or chick flicks. Maybe their other songs, besides the three or four hits they played at the acoustic set, sound a little less safe and familiar (the short set list was limited, also, by the fact that lead singer Roy Stride was stricken to the guitar instead of his piano since they didn't have the necessary converter to plug in the keyboard they lugged across the ocean).
Photo from www.eastvillageradio.com
||| No photograph could do justice to Mica Levi (in the yellow-square t-shirt), who took the stage next with her child-size guitar, its size proportionate to her figure but not to her bouffant of a haircut. She was joined by, aptly named, The Shapes: a young man in a t-shirt with a green triangle painted on it and a young lady whose shirt had painted red circles. They both crouched on the floor surrounded by conventional items such as glass bottles and jars, and asked the audience to loan them a set of keys, all of which were employed as percussion. The "band" goes by the name Micachu, and makes you wonder why you never pursued a music career with the imaginative if slightly unskilled kids you used to play with in your own basement or attic.
photo from www.eastvillageradio.com
||| Emmy the Great, who has been getting a lot of press on blogs of late, followed Micachu with her more traditional band (though that's not saying much considering the context). Lead singer and songwriter Emma-Lee's gentle vocals and simple guitar chords floated the band through the first song, lovely but mysterious enough to catch the attention of the crowd gathering in the small garden room. She lost a little ground, and admitted it, with an attempt to cover a Weezer ballad with "an old friend" with whom she was recently reunited here in New York. Their effort was redeemed when she talked of another time they had done a Weezer cover, with the final lyrics "I'm sorry" and immediately afterwards, she had to say "I'm sorry." to the audience. Her humility and quiet charm, however, need no apology.
Photo from the artist's album at www.emmythegreat.com

Andrew Bird (and Co.) Play NYC

as published on Wireless Bollinger

When has indie music resembled a symphony? Well it did on October 7th, when Andrew Bird and his band played the Hiro Ballroom in Manhattan. By layering disparate musical elements (from percussive plucking of his electric violin, to the revving of Jeremy Ylvisaker’s electric guitar, Bird’s sweet whistling, the handclaps, the xylophone, the gloceknspiel...) Bird has created his own genre of music. And as good as it sounds on an album (with a new one due out in January), the total effect is best when the music is live. read more!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

You Name It, They Play It

The Theater Fire is a band out of Ft. Worth, Texas that has recently come across my radar (I wrote a review of their show in Brooklyn for Wireless Bollinger). They are a collection of seven men whose songs tell stories about life, love and Texas and sound like country western mixed with a little rock, with maybe some mariachi and even a little big band jazz on the side. In order to fully comprehend what this means, you will just have to listen to them for yourself.
And here's a game to play: as you listen, see how many instruments you can pick out. These men play more instruments in one song than some people even hear in a lifetime. And then they switch them out for new instruments on the next song!

As a little cheat-sheet, I will attempt to list all of the instruments they had on hand at their Brooklyn show last week.

First, the obvious ones: keyboard, electric guitar, electric bass, acoustic guitar, drums.

Then comes the trumpet, the french horn, some other kind of horn (I was never in a band), a xylophone, bongo drums, a mandolin, a banjo, a harmonica, a steel bowl, some version of rainsticks, an accordion, a fiddle, a washboard (yes. they had a washboard).

And now for the ones I really didn't recognize: some version of a keyboard that had strings like a harp, a recorder-like instrument with piano-like keys.
Oh and they sang. Which counts as an instrument in and of itself.

Am I missing anything? You tell me.

Band photo from The Theater Fire Pics album on Myspace

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Normal is Not The Same for Ben Folds

written for Wireless Bollinger:Ben Folds is not normal, despite the title of his most recently released album, Way To Normal. The man writes songs unlike any of his contemporaries. He falls off of a stage in Japan, suffers a concussion but proceeds to play the set, and then writes a song relating the details of the event (‘Hiroshima’). And the song becomes a hit.

... The live show [at Terminal 5 in Manhattan] opened and closed with overhead echoing sounds of “Om” as the eager eyes of the audience scanned the dark stage for any sign of abnormal life... read more!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Jupiter One debut EP

Originally written for Soundcheck magazine, though not published there

The self-titled debut album by Jupiter One, a New York City band, is electric. In every sense of the word. The crystal clear vocals by K Ishibashi soar above the electronic synthesizers, electric guitars, electric violin and electrifying drums, creating a sound that is complex yet effectively balanced. The signature instruments are the chameleon-like synthesizers, whose impressive range reflects the scope of the entire album.

Like a journey (or more appropriately, a trip), the fiery yet whimsical album opens with a short instrumental piece, “Intro for Ani Enorda” akin to an orchestrated tune-up. From there, with the specificity of Dave Heilman’s drums and the bright melodies from three synthesizers led by Mocha, and assisted by Zac Colwell and Ishibashi (who also alternate with the electric guitar or electric violin), the songs call at times to a disco ball or to Mr. Roboto in all his techno glory. Radio-destined songs such as “Countdown” or “Fire Away” are more than just catchy pop tunes, becoming layered opuses with distinct movements as the instruments build and drop out of the fray.

The crisp, percussive lyrics, treated with such tenderness by Ishibashi, become more extraneous, though no less melodious, as the album goes on (“I never buy umbrellas anymore/ I’ll just lose them anyway”). Vocal harmonies a la Queen are introduced and the focus moves towards exploration with the synthesizers. In “Unglued”, they flutter like a harp then chime like an organ; they are light sabers at the start of “Wrong Line” and merry little bells in “Umbrellas”.

By fusing celebrated musical elements from decades passed with a modern-day sensibility, Jupiter One has an irresistible, unique sound. On “Countdown”, when Ishibashi sings: “And so it
begins” the implications reach far beyond the context of the song.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Down Under Was On Top

In my attempt to "Australia-ize" myself, I happily accepted an invitation to see Xavier Rudd, the Aussie Jack Johnson, of sorts. He's certainly got the surfer-hippie-beach vibe down, his music has a distinct reggae-island tone and he's playful, humble and charming like a modern-day Crocodile Dundee.
More importantly, though, the man is a multi-instrumentalist wonder. And I do wonder, in fact, if there is anything he can't play. I was witness to him on an acoustic guitar, a Weissenborn slide guitar, a harmonica, a synthesizer, drums (plus the bongos at drummer Dave Tolley's set) and the cherished native Aussie instrument, the didgeridoo.

Now, as Americans, we don't know what we're missing by our ignorance of this instrument. It's reminiscent of those long Swiss horns made famous by the Ricola TV commercials, only more of a straight, hollow wooden pole, traditionally made out of eucalyptus. It was created and originally played by the Australian Aboriginees. It creates a percussive, constant sound not unlike a synthesizer, and each of Rudd's three didgeridoos had a different pitch. Apparently they work somewhat like a harmonica in that the sound and breathing is cyclical and constant, with tones both on the inhale and the exhale. This has led some to believe that playing the didgeridoo is a good cure for snoring and sleep apnea... whaddyaknow? (I want this one)

Opening for Xavier Rudd (for all of the shows on his North America tour) was a Nashville folk singer, Griffin House. His acoustic sound and wistful, romantic lyrics ("Any guy who would say goodbye to you is out of his mind") would be more fitting for a coffeehouse or small venue than the flashy Nokia theater in Times Square. Nevertheless, the crowd was seduced by his southern charm through his brief but engaging act. He spoke of returning with his band, with his sights set on playing the Bowery Ballroom. I will be there if he comes.


A lot of times at local shows, the doors are opened to the venue long before the first act takes the stage. People tend to mill around, drinking and mingling amid the anxious and enthusiastic energy of the empty space. I found it quite curious then, and amusing really, that at the Nokia theater, of the hundred or so people who chose to enter the vast space early (separate from those who preferred to mingle outside the theater at one of two large bars), most were just chilling on the floor. I mean literally, sitting or even laying on the floor of the venue in the blue mood lights.
(By the way, the lighting engineer at the Nokia theater rocks. True, he or she clearly has awesome equipment to play with, but I was thoroughly impressed with the specificity with which Rudd's set was complimented and dramatized by the lighting.)

Back to the point: Who sits on the floor at an indoor concert hall? I can't wait for the day that this trend makes its way downtown to Bowery Ballroom or the Mercury Lounge...

(Didgeridoo photos from www.ididj.com.au)

Friday, September 5, 2008


As a new contributing writer for yet another online music site, I have now joined the ranks of music-loving Aussies at WirelessBollinger.com.
(Thank you to Nick)
It is a very thorough site based out of Australia featuring music news plus reviews of albums and live shows from around the world (Australia, UK, Ireland, NYC...).
The biggest challenge I foresee is picking up the accent.
Check out the site here, hey!

Jupiter One Takes New York City by Storm

Written for Soundcheck magazine:

"If Jupiter One were a hurricane, K Ishibashi would be the eye of its storm. Grounded at the center, calm and controlled, his energy spirals off to the rest of the band, each of whom is their own force to be reckoned with. In the same way that a great storm is fascinating, Jupiter One is captivating: the crowd moves, cheers and jumps, as close to the edge of the stage as possible, longing to get swept up into the storm..." read more

** the Album review is still on the editor's desk at Soundcheck magazine, but in the meantime, check out the songs here

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Spring Standards Do Their Thing

It’s no small thing to play an instrument really well. It’s another thing all together to play three instruments while singing a song that you wrote. Meet The Spring Standards, a band with seven instruments and only three musicians (or maybe you already met them, they used to be called Old Springs Pike. But you should meet them again).

At their CD release party at the Bowery Ballroom on July 31st, the three members of the band gave new meaning to the term “multi-tasking”. Sandwiched between two men (both named James) was Heather Robb with her sweet voice (like a younger, hipper Joni Mitchell), plus her keyboard, harmonica and base drum with cymbals which she beat enthusiastically and with surprising skill. The two James guys (James Cleare and James Smith) share not only the same name, but also the same instruments, switching sides of the stage throughout the set, moving between the acoustic guitar and electric bass. Their stations were also outfitted with segmented drum-sets and a harmonica (for which the crowd went crazy).

The trio had their moments of bright poppy melodies and guitar lines, even approaching a little metal on occasion, but their country roots are undeniable (and happily so). The set was mostly original songs, except for one cover done in tribute to Neil Young and, later, a good old Cranberries song in which the trio invited all of the musicians from the night up to join them in a paramount finale.

James, Heather and James are clearly very talented musicians. But they are also gracious and genuine (Heather commented several times on how happy they were to be back in New York), humble and amiable (James went on a spur-of-the-moment tangent about the movie Anaconda 3 and had to be reeled back in). They play with everything they’ve got, which makes their skills all the more impressive. Any one of them could be pulled out, sat down on their own, and left to give a captivating solo acoustic show. But together, they rock, with layered and seamless harmonies that would make the Beatles proud, and a synchronicity so perfect it’s a wonder that they can breathe without each other.

They came out for an encore (how could they not?) and launched into an upbeat blues song that they seemed born to perform. After the cheers died down, they stepped away from their instruments and announced that the audience would have to be really quiet for the next song. As seems to befit their nature, the trio cut to the chase, jumped off the stage and onto the main floor of the ballroom, where they were quickly encircled by the delighted crowd. With only a ukelele accompanying them, they sang their closing song, like a fond farewell, inviting the remaining diehards in the audience to join in towards the end. Suddenly, the iconic venue felt smaller, the Spring Standards felt like family and the concert became an intimate, unique experience never to be repeated.

And this, the ability to give a performance that is unforgettable, is the most impressive thing of all.
Top photo by Reid Rolls
Live photos by Cassie Newman

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Via Audio Plays Bowery Ballroom

It is a fine line that musicians (or all artists, really) tread. The goal is to be a commodity: to fit a bill or have a skill that others don’t, or to have a sound so unique that you are in a league of your own. But you go too far across that line and you may offend or lose the interest of listeners; you play it too safe and listeners will move right on to something edgier. It seems that some bands have developed a stratagem, then, of versatility: a way to cover their bases and dabble in all sorts of sounds, like a politician trying to please as many people as possible.

Playing at the Bowery Ballroom on July 31st, the Boston/NYC based band, Via Audio, took the audience on somewhat of a musical tour. While some songs are all about the words (often about regret, skepticism, moving on...), others have hardly any lyrics to speak (or sing) of, replaced by bright and loud melodies, somewhat disconnected vocal harmonies and driving drum beats. There seemed to be much more versatility in the live show than is characteristic of the band’s albums. Just when it seemed clear that they were a garage rock band, they’d lean on the synthesizers or the keyboard and the music took a turn for pop. In the next song, the drums would introduce a reggae beat, or the guitars would riff off into heavy metal land. Then, out of nowhere, there would be a horn section (with members clad in the requisite dark sunglasses), taking the music back towards big band jazz. Even a flute made an appearance, adding an entirely new, softer dimension to a sound that by that point had become quite metal. These are instruments that are not utilized as much on the album and really threw the band’s sound in a different direction.

Whatever their sound, whatever they play, they play it well. What helps them stand out, though, is their casual and playful energy on stage. It felt like a big party (four band members, plus up to four guest musicians); like witnessing a jam session that happened to be catering to an audience. Whenever a part wasn’t in the fray, such as the trumpets or the saxophone, the musicians danced around on the side, singing along with the sultry voice of lead singer, Jessica Martins.

It is commonplace, and often helpful, to assign definitions to people or things, to put them in a box. But doing so can be extremely limiting and even destructive, especially when it comes to music or the arts. Well, Via Audio cannot be put into any one box, their sound is not easily labeled or defined. Whether this makes them a commodity or a confused lot is up for debate, but in the mean time, they put on quite an entertaining show.

(top photo courtesy of Via Audio's blog, bottom photo from the band's live show at the Lion's Den and courtesy of "The View from My Seat" blog)

Jukebox the Ghost!

There's a stage set up at the south end of Union Square, a semi-permanent fixture which exists for the Summer in the Square program. Passing by on a Thursday, New Yorkers and tourists alike may witness the stage playing host to all sorts of entertainment (as if there wasn't enough already in Union Square). From yoga classes led by local studios to dance shows for kids to rockin' concerts at cocktail hour, the stage breathes a diverse life into the corner of the park usually reserved for skateboarders or protests.

I happened to be passing by last Thursday night at aforementioned cocktail hour and there was a huge crowd gathered around, a song ringing out from the stage that I knew somehow and figured to be a cover, though I couldn't quite pin it down. As I got closer, I recognized the drummer on stage, in his typical black square framed sunglasses: Jesse Kristin from the band Jukebox the Ghost.

Let me explain the reasons for my ensuing excitement:
1. It was a hot day, there were too many people in a small area, but what a pleasant surprise to unexpectedly stumble upon one of the most talented bands playing the indie circuit right now.
2. Jukebox, a band out of Philly, seems to travel around the country more than many of their contemporaries, so to find them back in New York is a treat.
3. These guys are incredible musicians and word is still not entirely out. A gig in Union Square will most definitely warrant them much deserved attention and a whole slew of new fanatics.
4. Their poppy music and playful energy (particularly Ben Thornewill on piano and vocals, whose theatricality is irresistible) brings a smile to my face every time. Simply put, they make my day.

Although I only caught the end of their hour-long set (much to my chagrin), I left no less satisfied than after jamming along with them through their longest show. Once again, they made my day.

Jukebox will be back in Brooklyn August 20th at Studio B, and again October 2nd at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Don't wait to run into them in Union Square: do yourself a favor and go see them in concert.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

McCarren Park pool on Sunday July 27th

Yep, it rained. That seems to be everyone's first question. Everyone, that is, who passed up the chance to see Brooklyn natives MGMT play for free on Sunday at McCarren Pool. And they were all correct in their skepticism of the forecast. The clouds disappeared for an hour, letting the sun beat down on the thousands of people standing in line (which followed the circumference of the block), only to roll back in as quickly as they left and open up to drench the sunburned and sweaty hipsters (and occasional Manhattan music lovers such as myself). It was like nature's challenge to fans seeking a free concert: just how much will they endure?

Suffice it to say, I didn't stay for the whole show. I'm surprised I stayed long enough to wait out the line and get inside at all. I'm not surprised, however, to hear that MGMT gave a great show.

The party was opened by the Ting Tings, a UK band that will be playing at Lollapallooza this weekend. Their poppy sound makes a great soundtrack to the dodgeball, boozing shenanigans that are a staple to McCarren Pool parties. The lyrics are slightly aggressive, and only enhanced by the pixie blonde singer's punky delivery.

After an extremely long changeover, (the interim stereo music didn't distract me enough from the rain, I guess) Black Moth Super Rainbow took the stage. Their music is all instrumental, with heavy emphasis on synthesizers. As suggested by a friend, it would make a great soundtrack, but that doesn't mean we're going to wait in line for three hours "to hear the soundtrack from Indiana Jones". Or the Black Moth Super Rainbow again, particularly in a venue as overbearing as the McCarren Pool on a dreary day.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Upcoming Shows I Would See...

Sunday July 27
photo from the band's website
McCarren Park Pool

This is just the kind of music you want to groove to in an empty pool in Queens on a hot day: A Brooklyn band with simple melodies and inventive instrumentation. It borders on a little trippy and screams Summer.
See what I mean here

Thursday, July 31
Old Springs Pike CD Release Party
photo at right by Jeff of Gus23
at the Bowery Ballroom
with Via Audio, The Paper Raincoat and Anya Marina

Old Springs Pike, now called The Spring Standards, are a local band with a bright sound, layered harmonies and rock melodies with a healthy tinge of good old country.
Sneak preview here!

Via Audio is another band that plays locally a lot (and I also ran into them in Austin) and have quite the flattering reputation as performers.
Check them out here
Get yer tickets now!

Monday August 4
The National
photo at right from the band's website
Plants and Animals
Summerstage in Central Park

Do I need to say more?
If so, read what Summerstage has to say (and possibly find a link to tickets) here

Friday, August 22
Jupiter One
photo from the band's web album
Bowery Ballroom

I predict that Jupiter One is about to be big. Their music has a poppy dance beat with some electric reverb thrown in on the guitar. The sound is unique, as they attempt to blur the lines between synthesizers and guitars. The songs just make you want to bounce and croon along.
Don't believe me? Listen for yourself here

Or just buy tickets right now!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Mates of State State of Mind

Posted June 20th at Soundcheck magazine

“The function of Art is to Provoke. Love or Hate.”

Seeing a band play live is often a gamble: will you love them or hate them, will you wish you’d just stayed home with the album? How much of their sound is created in a studio and will be missing from a live performance? What about these small two-person bands? How is their sound going to fill a vast open air venue, with motorcycles revving outside, enormous stationary fans blowing relentlessly and crowds cheering?

Suffice it to say that when the two-person band Mates of State returned to Emo’s on June 13th, their sound was so big that the rest of the world of Austin disappeared for a good 90 minutes. The couple (yes, married, with a daughter) was driven to play four encore songs, the jam-packed audience tirelessly committed despite the unforgiving Austin heat. And they sounded exactly like their recordings. Their music, their art, didn’t change in the transfer from the studio to the stage.

For good, and perhaps for... not so good. Part of the thrill of seeing a band perform live is not only the sensation of being flooded by the music, but also witnessing the musicians as they play. Watching the way they interact and the ways the music affects them can be worth the price of admission.

Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, the notable Mates, are serious musicians. They bust out vibrant and electric chords on the organ and big, jumpy rhythms on the drums (respectively), all the while singing provocative lyrics (“I’m on my own/ Stop telling me the right way to go”). There is a satisfying contrast in the structure of the songs; the vocals shifting from passionate wails to meditative serenades, Gardner and Hammel trading off, harmonizing and layering phrases. (Oh, and Gardner also plays a mean electric guitar. For an organist.)

But they are serious. They stood at practically opposite ends of the Emo’s stage, and had very little interaction with each other (even the smiles and glances were rare until the encore). They didn’t dance or move around much (except in shifting between organs or from the drumset to the microphone). It just didn’t seem as if they were having fun, which is in complete contradiction to their spirited sound.

Nonetheless, energy rolled off the stage like a wave drowning the thirsty crowd, which is testament to the band’s music. They don’t need to jump and bounce around to give a good show. It’s all in the songs.

For most of the songs (pulled primarily from the new album, but with an occasional throwback to previous hits like “For the Actor” and “Like U Crazy” ), the duo was accompanied by a violinist and/or a cellist (who moonlighted with a trombone). In their sustained notes, the strings added an interesting emotional contrast to the pulsing rock sound, but often all but disappeared beneath the dominant organ and drums.
Just when it seemed the band couldn’t add any more sounds, the fourth song of the encore, and incidentally the finale, brought an onslaught of musicians (ten in all) to the stage. As one fan aptly put it, it was like an “orgy encore”, replete with tambourines, an accordion, the trombone, and of course the drums and organs. The music was invigorating, the energy palpable.

Love or hate it, the show was an impressive display of musicianship, it was as predictable and reliable as any art should or could be, and it achieved its purpose as a live concert: to temporarily transport an audience, to fill them with an external energy, to provoke them to scream and dance around. In a certain sense, the means to that end are irrelevant, as long as it’s achieved.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Submarines Dive Into Union Hall

See The Submarines play this summer!!
Posted June 1 on Soundcheck magazine
Photos by Orrin Anderson
Clad in a retro sailor-style dress with knee-high boots and her blonde hair in braided pigtails, the last thing you’d expect Blake Hazard to be holding is an electric guitar. But as the front-woman for the LA-based garage pop band The Submarines, she did just that on Thursday night as she rocked Brooklyn’s Union Hall, which she claimed to be her favorite stop yet on the band’s East Coast tour. And, yes, she was accompanied by two very committed and apt men, one supplying drums and the other electric guitar (played by her partner in all things music and love, John Dragonetti). But Hazard, with her guitar and flower-framed xylophone, easily stole the show.

While Dragonetti seemed to be all business, focused on the music, Hazard was playful and giggly, truly charming. Not to say she is any less of a musician, rotating between not only her guitar and xylophones but also a tambourine and the recorder-like melodica. After a slightly sticky opening due to a technical imbalance in sound levels (which Hazard handled with great poise, politely requesting several times for more sound on her vocals),the band seemed to warm up into a more cohesive whole.

But it still felt as though most of the energy from the stage flowed from Hazard and her wistful and expressive handling of the music. This energy was more akin to that of a mellow singer-songwriter show, which also calls to Hazard’s sweet but versatile voice. She has the vocal chops of a folk or blues singer and sings like she should be sitting with an acoustic guitar rather than planted firmly behind an electric one in a garage band. But this lends a surprising contrast to the band’s music and image, a brightness to the occasional overdriven sounds of Dragonetti’s guitar or the prominent percussion from the drumset.

The set at Union Hall included new songs as well as hits such as “Brighter Discontent”and “You, Me and the Bourgeoisie”. Anyone still unfamiliar with the latter song about “living the good life” and “fighting the good fight” will surely be charmed by its bright melodies and upbeat tempo as well as by the empathy in its lyrics: “Yeah I know we all want something fine/time for higher ceilings and bourgeois happy feelings... here we are in the center of the firstworld/ it’s laid out for us/ who are we to break down”.

Now and again there seemed to be a noticeable shift in energy, perhaps an indication of which songs the band favored or felt more confident playing. This was especially true in the vivacity of “Swimming Pool”, the first of a three song encore, which Hazard spontaneously and gleefully admitted that they had forgotten to play in the set.

There is something unique about seeing a band perform live, regardless of technical difficulties or improvisation within the songs. It’s rewarding just to see who is behind the music, witness and feel their energy as they play, and watch their interactions on stage. Undeniably, The Submarines are talented musicians and songwriters, which is evident in their sprightly songs, both on the albums and in a live show. But to see Hazard, like a rockstar version of the Swiss Miss girl, singing about life and love and playing with such childlike abandon, is the greatest reward of all.