Saturday, January 30, 2010

Les Savy Fav at the Brooklyn Academy of Music 1/29/10

Tim Harrington came onstage in purple tights. He had clothespins fastened tightly to his beard like a Walmart witchdoctor and sported a tan tunic. This latter didn’t last long though, as Tim prefers to put his corpulent belly front and center.

Tim didn’t say a word, and his band was nowhere to be seen. Instead, he silently danced around the stage for four or five minutes, leaping and twirling and stopping short and glaring at the audience. The macabre ballet soon entered the aisles, Tim waltzing up and down with entranced gazes trailing in his wake.

Did I mention this was happening in an opera hall, the sort of place that shows Shakespeare’s The Tempest (this month) and Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya (next)? The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House may have played host to the proceedings, but no reverence was spared for this most illustrious of spaces. By the time Tim’s band, Les Savy Fav, joined him onstage, all high-art pretentions had vanished. “If you sit in your chairs like this is a fucking art show, it becomes a fucking art show,” Tim cajoled as he physically maneuvered audience members into standing positions in front of the stage.

So began the Sounds Like Brooklyn festival, an annual celebration of the music of New York’s most creative borough.

Many terms are thrown about to encapsulate just what it is Les Savy Fav do. “Post-hardcore.” “Art rock.” “Fugazi meets Bloc Party.” Words cannot encapsulate the frenzied insanity of a Les Savy Fav concert though. Harrington yips and yelps and shrieks all over the stage as a backing quartet pounds out thundering riffage and swirling noise explosions. A packed hall of fans jump and scream and sweat along with the band while those not in the know (in this case the Academy’s season-ticket holders) look on in, at best, bemusement.

It would be easy to review this show by simply listing all the crazy things Harrington did -- riding a good-natured fan around the room like a horse, inflating a Hefty-bag snake for audience crowd-surfing, donning a monkey costume and, when accused of looking feline, busting out an ape-themed parody of “Memory” from Cats -- but the real story of a Les Savy Fav show is the communion between band and fan.

Harrington breaks down the divide between performer and audience to the extent that you don’t feel like you’re watching a great show; you feel like you’re helping create one. He spends half his time down among the people, jumping with fans, singing with fans, and playfully heckling anyone who seems to be holding back. “I didn’t realize how much our audience depended on being wasted,” he remarked when crowd participation faltered Friday. “It’s kind of their thing.

By the time the band threw down their instruments and roared offstage ninety minutes after they begun -- no encore when you give it all the first time around -- even the most sober was left gasping for air. As the crowd went their separate ways down the cold Brooklyn streets, people walked with a conspiratorial gleam in their eye, like they knew they had been a part of something. Maybe it was art after all.

Photos by This Week In New York (via Flickr)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cold War Kids at the Music Hall of Williamsburg 1/28/10

Nothing sinks a band faster than that dreaded c-word: Complacency. At their sold-out show Thursday night at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg -- a last-minute addition to their much bigger sold-out show tonight at Terminal 5 -- the Cold War Kids played like professionals doing a job for which the thrill is gone.

I last saw the band at Bonnaroo 2007, when their debut Robbers & Cowards was just beginning to get some notice. Playing a grueling set in the midday sun, the quartet performed like they had everything to prove, ripping through booze-soaked songs about drinking, friendship, and more drinking. They made a lot of converts that day and have made a lot more since, but now that the evangelism has ended the coasting begins.

If you made a checklist of “fun live band” signifiers, the Kids would get high marks. Wander about the stage? Check. Josh around with each other, shoving your bandmates like it’s after-hours at the Bourbon Saloon? Yep. Yet even at their most apparently engaged they seemed to be going through the motions.

The crowd tried to compensate with energy of their own, but by show’s end even that felt like an obligation. “I don’t even need to sing this,” Nathan Willett remarked before the final chorus of rousing sing-along “Hang Me Up to Dry,” and he was pretty much right. After three years of performing this song nightly, Willett’s boozy holler went on Autopilot, leaving a gleeful crowd to try to compensate despite an unsteady grasp of the lyrics.

Flashes of the old passion poked through, but they were only brief glimpses of sun in an overcast set. Sitting at the piano, Willett belted “Santa Anna Winds,” off the band’s recent Behave Yourself EP, with grit and vigor, and during “Saint John”…well it’s hard to be bored when someone’s playing percussion on a wine bottle.

The Cold War Kids’ classic covers are invariably high points, and in that regard they didn’t disappoint. At Bonnaroo ’07 they took on Tom Waits and Sam Cooke; last night the Americana cover came in the form of “Long As I Can See the Light,” originally by obvious inspirations Creedence Clearwater Revival, though the swampy slow-burn failed to move an audience unfamiliar with the original.

The entire evening, the band’s energy dwindled whenever the crowd’s rose. The band put it all on the line for tunes the audience didn’t care about, while the night’s biggest crowd-pleasers received a disinterested delivery. The huge cheer that greeted the opening chords of “Hospital Beds” dwindled to a polite golf-clap by song’s end.

At one point in the evening Willett read a passage from The Catcher in the Rye as tribute to the late J.D. Salinger. He chose the section about the ducks in Central Park, but the bit about Holden Caulfield grabbing the brass ring on the carousal might have been more appropriate. After years of stretching for that ring, the Cold War Kids now seem content to just sit back and ride.

Photos by CLme (via Flickr)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Of Montreal at the Highline Ballroom 1/26/10

Of Montreal has reached a place in their performing career where each show is just a test to top the last one. Two years ago theatrical frontman Kevin Barnes rode a horse onstage at the Roseland. More recently he dressed in a centaur outfit and smeared himself with whipped cream at Santos Party House. What could top that at last night’s Highland Ballroom show, announced just a couple weeks ago?

Try Susan Sarandon spanking a pig.

The evening began after a highly competent pop set by OM drummer James Husband, when five performers in black unitards (the go-to outfit of the evening) and animal masks began to play. Well, "play" is a generous word -- try "make noise with instruments." Regardless, the faked-out crowd rapturously cheered Of Montreal’s arrival…that is until the real band arrived to kicked off the imposters.

Sanity-wise, it was all downhill from there. The unitard-clad sidekicks reappeared often throughout the night, doing handstands, flashing strobe lights, or hitting the band with cutouts of fish as the situation dictated (or didn’t). Glow sticks flew through the crowd here, chalk-covered Greek gods wearing tighty-whities posed with apples there. The band, clad in a wardrobe that can only be described as futurist-psychedelia, mugged against video backdrops of swirling neon circles and tigers morphing into bananas. It didn’t make sense, but with the band singing songs titled “
Heimsdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse” would you really expect it to?

The campy theatrics peaked during set-closing Morrissey “Everyday Is Like Sunday” when the band reenacted the crucifixion on a spinning wooden cross brought out solely for the occasion. Barnes played the role of half-naked RoboChrist dying for the crowd’s sins before being carried off by his masked (and, now, wigged) assistants. The stations of the cross haven’t carried such a heavy S&M undercurrent since
The Passion.

It seems remiss to review a show with no mention of the actual music, but an Of Montreal event (the word concert does not do the spectacle justice) is about what you see, not what you hear. Yes, the band performed their freak-pop with tight focus, treating a crowd of regulars to some back-catalogue chestnuts as well as a new song titled “Teenage Unicorn Fisting.” And yes, longtime favorites like “She's a Rejector” and “For Our Elegant Caste” got the rambunctious crowd jumping and crowd-surfing. But with a band singing lyrics like “I want you to be my pleasure puss,” sonic nuance is hardly the point.

Ironically, the music only too center-stage during the least technically proficient song of the evening. Solange Knowles (aka. BeyoncĂ©’s sister) is no stranger to the band, covering “Heat Wave” with them last year and appearing on their upcoming album, but this time the occasion was a gloriously sloppy cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”

Now, about that pig-spanking. When a fight broke out between two man-pigs, who else but Susan Sarandon could bring peace? Sitting on a crouched Barnes, she bent one of the pigs over a knee to gave it the business end of her ruler (video here). Her presence was never explained, but it didn’t really need to be. After all, this is the woman who had sex with a robot in
Rocky Horror Picture Show. So if she wants to explore some onstage school-marm bestiality onstage, let her. At an Of Montreal show, it’s best not to ask questions.

Suffer For Fashion
Forecast Fascist Future
Du Og Meg
Lysergic Bliss
Disconnect The Dots
Spike The Senses
And I’ve Seen a Bloody Shadow
Plastis Wafers
St. Exquisite’s Confessions
Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse
Teenage Unicorn Fisting
An Eluardian Instance
Oslo In The Summertime
Everyday Feels Like Sunday (Morrissey cover)
A Sentence Of Sorts In Kongsvinger
She’s a Rejecter
[encore break]
For Our Elegant Caste
I Want You Back (Jackson Five cover)


Photo #1 &#2 by Josh Silk (via SPIN), Photo #3 by Joe Parker (via Flickr).