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.


Maude Maggart Enchants at the Oak Room

Posted April 15, 2008 on CabaretExchange.com

There is something magical about lullabies; there is a naivete, a vulnerability almost, about them. Maude Maggart exhibits these charms, probably in her everyday life, but especially in her cabaret shows at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel.

This setting, which feels like it’s been preserved in exactly the same state since its heyday in the 1940s, is the perfect fit for Ms. Maggart who, herself, seems of a different era. In her casual chatter, she uses phrases such as "I suppose" and accents her songs with balletic gestures of her arms and hands. She moves gracefully and has the mysterious enchantment of Ava Gardner or Rita Hayworth, complete with the low cut black dress and wavy long hair swept over one shoulder.

Her pitch-perfect voice is also reminiscent of the bygone jazz days, with a resonance that can almost be felt in the wood-paneled Oak Room. She has a bright and youthful vibrato that quivers as much as the cello accompanying her and calls to mind the voices of the heroines on classic Disney movies. Ms. Maggart has beautiful enunciation, making every word heard without putting any effort into it, and a genuine connection with the audience that is riveting. She makes eye contact with each person, and even goes so far as to walk up to the tables and take people’s hands. This approach could be discomforting, but Ms. Maggart does it with such an unassuming innocence that, instead, it is heart-warming.

Appropriately, her show at the Oak Room (which continues until May 10th) is titled "Speaking of Dreams", and Ms. Maggart does just that. Last Wednesday night, she hypothesized about the reason that love and dreams are so often connected in songs (suggesting that both can give euphoria and misery almost simultaneously). She also explored her idea of "healthy lullabies" and fairy tales, as in not the kind that imply to young girls that men will only kiss them when they’re half-dead (a la Sleeping Beauty or Snow White). Her idea of a Healthy Lullaby? "When You Wish Upon A Star" from Pinocchio, which, John Boswell, her highly favored pianist, led her straight into following her dissertation-of-sorts.

Although it was highly entertaining to listen to her conjecture on dreams and share witty stories from her past, it is perhaps more important, being that she is a singer, that she also sang of dreams. Every song was tied in to the theme of dreaming, if not literally then symbolically: from "Isn’t It Romantic" to "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes" from Cinderella to the paramount yearning of "Over the Rainbow".

At this point, it became clear that the evening’s program had been very thoughtfully laid out by Ms. Maggart. Earlier on, in discussing dreams and love, Ms. Maggart asked the audience which natural phenomena associated with dreams occurred during the day (as opposed to the moon and the stars at night). The answer, with a little encouragement from Maggart, was rainbows. So when, sitting casually atop the grand piano, she broke out into the opening verse of this famous song, accompanied only by chords on the guitar, it was like a revelation for the audience, a journey come full circle.

This is a song that, seventy years later, is still being sung constantly around the world. But Ms. Maggart’s rendition was unique: it was stunning in its simplicity. Maggart took her time with the lyrics, bestowing upon them a soft, delicate quality with a sweet naivete that the song longs for but so rarely is afforded. The resulting wistful lullaby had her audience moved to tears.

This, like all classic songs which will never go out of style, is a metaphor for Ms. Maggart herself. It seems that no matter how many times you see her perform, it will never grow old and will never be enough.

photo by Evan Nesbitt