Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Killola at the Studio at Webster Hall 3/30/10

For a girl who's appeared on the Cosby Show and King of Queens, Lisa Rieffel is surprising vulgar. Upon taking the Studio at Webster Hall stage Tuesday night with her band Killola, she raised her middle fingers high. She may have lowered them to sing, but for the next sixty minutes they stayed up in spirit.

Live, Killola pays winking homage to the snot-nosed brats of early punk. On record the band’s garage-pop tunes are carefully constructed rock and roll throwbacks, but on stage self-awareness vanishes. The album giveaways and elaborately conceived videos can preach the music’s merits, but only in person does the effect of shoving an audience member’s face in your crotch really come off.

With the aid of a hired-gun keyboard player, the quartet thundered out renditions of their garage-pop tunes far grimier than their polished recordings. The music sounded like it was coming from a tin can and the band played like they were trying to be heard over beer pong games at a frat party.

With song titles like “I Wanna See Your Dick” though, sonic nuance may not be the goal. Sure, the Motown swing of their tunes got lost in the racket, but it’s tough to focus on singing when you’re writhing around on the floor or dangling upside down from a water pipe.

When the band closed the show with a wonderfully sloppy cover of “Hey Mickey,” an overly enthusiastic audience member hopped onstage to engage in antics too raunchy to describe without getting this blog flagged by Google. Eventually Rieffel gently told her to settle down. Even crotch-shovers have a limit.

Photos by L.R. Adams (via Quirky NY Chick)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

David Ford at Union Hall 3/26/10

David Ford walked onto the basement stage at Union Hall carrying two small briefcases. Without a word he started shaking them into an old-fashioned radio mic. Filled with god-knows-what, the briefcases clattered in a violent rhythm like workingman’s maracas. As he shook, he sang. “Well I took me a deep breath and I counted to three / I am nothing at all like I wanted to be / I was born into comfort, I was raised by TV / I am nothing at all like I wanted to be.”

With porkpie hat and ratty tie, Ford looked like a small-time huckster and the music fit the role. He stomped like the Cold War Kids busking on a corner. He sang like Tom Waits right when his voice began to go sour. He preached like a one-man Pentecostal revival and if the small crowd wasn’t quite speaking in tongues, by god they were full of the holy spirit.

One assumed Ford traveled with a full band. Enough instruments littered the stage that even if he’d played a different one on each song he’d still have a few left over. But he doesn’t play a different one on each song. He plays them all at once.

“Panic” began with Ford winding a small music box, the plinking melody recalling an imagined ‘50s childhood. A stomp of a pedal looped the four-bar line so that the music continued when he put the box down. He moved on to a jaunty piano riff, adding it on top of the music box with a second stomp. Thumps on a briefcase. Another stomp. One acoustic guitar line. Stomp. A second. Stomp. O
rgan, tambourine, drum machine. Stomp, stomp, stomp.

After a couple minutes he had crafted a junkyard orchestra behind him. Now instrument-less, he hung from a water pipe crying out the cascading word vomit. His voice roared louder and louder as the verses piled on top of each other, the backing music looping endlessly. The cacophony of sound seemed to shake the room. Then one more stomp, and silence.

In other hands this looping might have amounted to little more than a neat parlor trick, but in Ford’s it served the songs. In fact, thanks to Union Hall’s terrible sightlines, some people in the audience may not have even realized he was playing all these instruments live. It wouldn’t have mattered…though they might have suspected something was up when Ford’s created so many voice loops for “Go to Hell” it sounded like a Gregorian choir onstage.

It says a lot about Ford
’s writing that the songs in which he didn’t loop a thing were just as powerful. Sitting alone at the piano, Ford poured the emotional honesty of a wedding vow into “Song for the Road.” On acoustic guitar, “Requiem” poetically lamented “the gradual decline of civilization into the pit of hell” (a description that, he wryly noted, could apply to many of his songs).

When song, performance and passion came together, the effect bordered on catharsis. Fans singing along to “State of the Union,” the emotional climax of the show, didn’t seem to realize they were doing so. The cries that followed lines like “Come on Jesus Christ, come back, all is forgiven” and (strangely) “Heroin tastes like ice cream” sounded like an involuntary release.

The night’s only awkward moment came after Ford bowed and walked off. He was clearly not going to do an encore, but the crowd would not leave. The minutes passed, the cheering mounted.

Finally Ford slunk back onstage…to explain why he doesn’t do encores. He gently chastised the crowd, saying the encore loses all meaning when it becomes a predetermined part of the show. Yet try though he might to talk himself offstage, the hooting and hollering continued. He paused, seemed to mull something over, then said the words that got perhaps the most explosive cheer of the night: “Fuck it, it’s my last night in America, why not?”

By audience request, he
performed “Katie” and “Cheer Up (You Miserable Fuck).” As the sing-along at the end of the latter grew to deafening levels, it was hard to imagine that he had considered ending the night without it. Shouted by an audience trying desperately to give something back, “La la la” had never felt so meaningful.

Nothing At All
I Don’t Care What You Call Me
To Hell with the World
She’s Not the One
Go to Hell
Waiting for the Storm
State of the Union
Song for the Road
Cheer Up (You Miserable Fuck)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Air at Terminal 5 3/20/10

In the three years since Air last touched down on U.S. soil, a lot has changed. Mario Cotillard won an Oscar for her portrayal of Édith Piaf in
La Vie En Rose. Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of Serge) got major indie cred by releasing an album with Beck. Phoenix was interviewed by Snooki on the Grammys red carpet.

When Air came on the scene ten years ago with the critical favorite
Moon Safari, the idea of a French electro-lounge act selling out the 3,000-person capacity Terminal 5 would have seemed absurd. Their songs never progress much beyond sensual slowjam, yet on a warm Friday night the venue was bursting with kids ready to rock, or at least stand around delicately sipping gin and tonics.

Electro-lounge combines two genres that have difficulty coming across live, a fact of which this duo is clearly aware. Hired-gun drummer Alex Thomas (Bat for Lashes, Badly Drawn Boy) pounded out the dance beats at a volume far surpassing the recorded versions and a fancy video screen flashed various lighted effects to compensate for the lack of onstage movement. At a seated theater or club this might have sufficed, but the audience packed onto Terminal 5’s hot ballroom floor seemed ready to topple any moment.

To be sure, the music was there. Many of the older songs enjoyed new arrangements, some pretty drastic. The inevitable “Sexy Boy,” for instance, found its funky bass line submerged under an ocean of synth shimmer while “La Femme d’Argent” turned into a wall-of-sound jam.

Impressive though their musical dexterity was though, music this laid-back is best enjoyed while half-asleep on a sunny afternoon. Air is the soundtrack to the imagination, but it’s hard to let the mind drift with the constant threat of a stray elbow or martini surrounding you.

The half-hearted attempt at visuals only underscored the static onstage. The high-powered animations were mostly excuses to display the band’s name, swirling and surging like a Windows screensaver. A screensaver can be fun to watch for a few minutes, but pretty soon you either want to shake the computer awake or go do something else.

Do the Joy
So Light is Her Footfall
J’ai Dormi
Missing the Light of Day
Tropical Disease
People In The City
Don’t Be Light
Cherry Blossom Girl
Be a Bee
How Does It Make You Feel?
Alpha Beta Gaga
Kelly Watch the Stars!
Heaven’s Light
Sexy Boy
La Femme d’Argent

Friday, March 12, 2010

The National in Brooklyn 3/11/10

It’s been years since the National have qualified as a “Brooklyn band.” Last summer they packed the All Points West main stage despite pouring rain and this summer promises to be even bigger, with a sold-out show at Radio City Music Hall in June and another gig a month later at Prospect Park. So when they announced two last-minute gigs at Brooklyn’s tiny Bell House, demand was high. Like, sell out in under a minute high.

And for good reason. Last night’s tour opener promised the chance for fans to get a first look at song from their anticipated-is-an-understatement High Violet, due May 11. The band did not disappoint, playing eleven new songs with a horn section, violin/piano player, second piano player, and second drummer. National + brass is always incredible (see: “Fake Empire) and High Violet looks to be their brassiest yet, with a trumpet and trombone playing on every song last night.

The set opened with “Blood Buzz, OH,” proving that, though the National are generally pretty smooth operators, they can get loud. Though none of the new songs quite hit the volume level of Alligator, they bring more energy than Boxer’s slow jams. “Little Faith (Chromehorse)” boasted a distortion pedal-led intro that may be the loudest thing they’ve ever done (it quieted down when the singing began).

The new songs stay true to the honed National sound, but incorporate some unexpected influences. “Sorrow” featured Bryce Dessner playing near-surf guitar on the verses, while “Ghost” sounded like Quentin Tarantino directing a Western. A few new instruments took center stage too, like some type of pump keyboard (“Afraid of Everyone”) and a bowed guitar (“Vanderlyle”).

For a group known for their sonic tightness, the band members were borderline unhinged as their energy bounced off the walls of the tiny club. Dressed in a dapper three-piece suit, lead singer Matt Berninger knocked over everything in sight (“That’s how you know he’s nervous,” guitarist Aaron Dessner quipped), leaning into the crowd so far that he fell on audience members, who were more than happy to nudge him back onstage.

Matt may have been anxious about the new songs, but the band’s only falter came on “Start a War,” the first old (read: already released) song of the night. Despite having the first line to every song written on his set list (see below), Matt forgot the lyrics halfway through the first verse. “These songs are so old!” he exclaimed.

Old, maybe, but the audience, which included Michael Stipe of R.E.M., ate them up. The band’s seven “old” choices were obvious but appropriate, hitting both the high-voltage hollers and mellow meanderings of their most popular songs. “Abel” delivered a full-throttle scream while Matt lurched and jerked among the amplifiers. On “Mr. November,” he left the stage entirely, running then crawling through the audience, grabbing a random girl from the audience to tow along. When the horns came in on set-closer “Fake Empire,” it was the emotional release after a full-concert build.

By the time the band closed their encore with “Terrible Love” (played the previous night on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), they seemed wrecked, but convinced they’d gotten the songs across. If last night’s show was any indication, High Violet may be their best yet, bridging the divide between rocking and crooning more than their previous releases. May 11th has never seemed so far off.

SET LIST (Matt's)

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Music of the Who at Carnegie Hall 3/2/10

The Who have been enjoying a career resurgence in the last few years, without really trying. They’ve been honored by Pres. Bush at the Kennedy Center and played the Super Bowl, all without putting out a new album or touring. Last night they were the inspiration for a 2.5-hour tribute concert at Carnegie Hall. Though Townshend apparently declined his invitation to appear (Roger Daltrey is off on tour with Eric Clapton) and the Pixies’ Frank Black canceled at the last minute, 21 artists picked up the slack, including a surprise performer who always seems to turn up at these things.

Sex Mob trumpet player
Steven Bernstein opened the show with, appropriately enough for the venue, the Tommy Overture. He played very little though, turning the heavy lifting over to house band Rich Pagano & the Sugarcane Cups and the Music Unites Youth Choir. The subtlety of the Tommy score doesn’t exactly come through when belted by forty overly enthusiastic teenagers, who went so far as to sing the electric guitar part of “Pinball Wizard” (“dun-duuuuunnn”). Pagano’s bongo solo didn’t help.

Living Colour came out looking like an old episode of Family Matters, but the soul-funk veterans ripped into the lesser-known “Eminence Front” (off the Who’s decidedly non-classic It’s Hard) with a wall of guitar and seemingly nonstop bass soloing by Doug Wimbash. The Afro-pop sound suited the song’s many parts, as the band hopped and bopped around.

Sondre Lerche came out with just an acoustic guitar – rarely a good sign. However, his guitar playing on “I’m a Boy” paid obvious homage to Who virtuoso…Keith Moon? Lerche’s guitar playing owed more to Moon’s drum attack than Townshend's windmills, attacking the chords with a stop-start rhythm that traded big chords for rhythmic fills, including an instrumental break that sounded like a drum solo plus melody.

Thanks to that youth choir,
Kaki King performed only the second-worst “Pinball Wizard” of the evening, feebly approximating the guitar part as if she wasn’t entirely sure how it went. Reedeming the performance somewhat was a partner playing some sort of feedback machine, squalling out noises that filled Carnegie Hall and all but drowned out King. Not that that was a bad thing.

When I interviewed the Postelles a few weeks back, they spilled the beans that they would be performing “I Can’t Explain.” From a band that takes such obv
ious influence from the British Invasion, picturing this cover was not a challenge. Give them credit for being the first band of the evening to actually sound like the Who though, roaring through the band’s first single with obvious delight.

Israeli songwriter
Asaf Avidan made the bold choice of ignoring the Who’s catalogue completely and instead imitating Melissa Etheridge strangling a cat. Wait...the program says that was “Naked Eye” off Who’s Next? Could’ve fooled me.

Mose Allison continued the one-two punch of awful, paying tribute to himself with “Young Man Blues.” Yes, I realize the Who covered your song countless times when they were younger, but if you’re not even going to play their version it’s just bragging. And following it up with a recent sequel “Old Man Blues”? Tacky.

Count on
Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü to get things back on track. What the program listed as a The Who Sell Out medley was mainly just “I Can’t Reach You,” complete with a windmill or two on his roaring sky-blue guitar.

Nicole Atkins' gorgeous voice tried to soar on “The Song Is Over," but the Sugarcanes’ leaden backing kept dragging her back to earth. Throughout the evening they proved better on the early punkish Who than tackling the grander orchestral scope of the band’s later years, where it seemed to be all they could do to just hang on.

This made “Love Ain’t for Keeping,” also off
Who’s Next, a particularly poor choice. Muddy sound didn’t help their case as, after an introductory speech comparing Keith Moon to Levon Helm, Pagano proved that unlike the legendary voice behind “The Weight” he could not competently drum and sing at the same time.

Judge Raul Madón’s performance by the applause: polite as he entered the stage, thunderous (and standing) as he exited. This blind guitarist turned “I Can See for Miles” into a flamenco rave up, tapping on his guitar like Rodrigo y Gabriela as his beautiful tenor reached the Carnegie rafters. The gorgeous faux-trumpet solo made people strain to see the instrument; no way a sound this pure was simply coming from his vocal chords. It was.

Bobby McFerrin, the man behind “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” continued the world-music vibe with an a cappella “My Generation.” Accompanied only by his hand thumping his chest, he half-scat, half-beatboxed his way through one of the most creative interpretations of the night. The song hit its peak as he riffed through John Entwhistle’s classic bass solos though, otherwise, it seemed this approach might have been better suited to a different tune, something off Quadrophenia perhaps.

The Who drew on the blues for much of the earlier work, but that side got little notice Wednesday night. Only college rock veterans the Smithereens hinted at the bloozier side of the band with their choice of “The Seeker.” Pat DiNizio roared through a punked-out version that tacked on the “Sparks” outro from Tommy after, blasting like a rocket.

Another unexpected high point came with
Matt Nathanson’s “The Real Me,” delivered primarily on acoustic guitar, strummed spastically while a bass drum thumped away in the background. Nathanson attacked the microphone like a python, darting towards it and back away.

Pete Townshend has said soul legend Bettye LaVette brought him to tears with her version of “Love, Reign O’er Me” at the Kennedy Center Honors. Where there she had the benefit of a full band though, at Carnegie it was just her and pianist/arranger Rob Mathis performing an arrangement that the louder it got, the more fragile it became. The woman’s voice deserves a Carnegie Hall tribute itself and if she milked the vocal riffing a little, blame the lack of drums to keep things in time.

The Sugarcanes were back to support ex-Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell on a pedestrian version of “Behind Blue Eyes.” As often happens with this tune, it didn’t really take off until the bridge (you know, the “When my fist clenches, crack it open” part).

A Beatles tribute band? Did the people scheduling this thing sink so low? Maybe they knew something the rest of us didn’t, because the Fab Faux (who, to their eternal credit, didn’t dress like or otherwise really try to imitate the Beatles) performed the hell out of the longest cover of the night, ripping through the entire “We’re Not Gonna Take It” from Tommy. The problem with these tribute shows is that only being on a couple minutes no band has time to establish a mood or repartee with the audience. Not a problem if you play for ten minutes, building the repetitive “Listening to you” bit at the end to a crescendo they rode all the way to the finish.

The energy continued with Willie Nile, an upstate rocker who never got the notice he deserves despite a long friendship with Bruce Springsteen. He hobbled onstage with a crutch, but his performance made it unclear whether it was a prop or he was defying doctors orders as he played air guitar on it, lashed out at the audience with it, and threw it across the stage on several occasions. Doing “The Kids Are Alright” with the Sugarcanes (the best they played all night), this seemed appropriate. Bonus points for a quick “Happy Jack” outro.

Harvey Danger frontman Sean Nelson and Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye joined
Robyn Hitchcock onstage where, after Robyn rambled for a few minutes about the “loser culture,” they began to sing: “Her man’s been gone nigh on a year…” Fantastic! Were they really going to do the entire ten-minute epic “A Quick One, While He’s Away”? Sadly, no they were not. This tease went into a take on “Substitute” that, while thoroughly competent, just came off as a disappointment. Don’t promise what you can’t (or won’t) deliver.

The Gaslight Anthem made no such pretensions. Guitarist Alex Rosamilia turned the synth intro of “Baba O’Riley” into a fast-and-furious guitar part before Brian Fallon Joe Strummer-ed his way through it. The band didn’t blow minds like they sometimes do, but it was still an excellent choice to close the show.

Except…who was this onstage now? All the scheduled performers had finished, but Carnegie had one more surprise in store: Patti Smith. “Carnegie Hall, forgive me for what I am about to do” she said before ripping through her punk-as-hell “My Generation,” a song she played in the early ‘70s, light on melody and heavy on feedback. “I don’t need their fucking shit!” she spat. “Hope I die because of it!” A beat poetry message about taking the world back from the corporations followed, delivered to the tune of her ripping the strings off her guitar.

The night ended, as these nights always do, with the inevitably all-star jam. The song was “Won’t Get Fooled Again," the only major hit not yet performed (no, "Boris the Spider" does not count). It sounded terrible, as these things always do, but was an absolute blast to watch. Willie Nile and Bettye LaVette took charge as most people just danced around or sang in the background. Nicole Atkins appeared for the Daltrey-worthy scream before disappearing in the background while Patti Smith decided she didn’t care about all this and just leapt into the audience and danced. A suitably irreverent way to end the evening.

Steven Bernstein & Music Unites Choir –
Tommy Overture
Living Colour – Eminence Front
Sondre Lerche – I’m a Boy
Kaki King – Pinball Wizard
The Postelles – I Can’t Explain
Asaf Avidan – Naked Eye
Mose Allison – Young Man Blues
Bob Mould – I Can’t Reach You
Nicole Atkins – The Song Is Over
Rich Pagano & the Sugarcane Cups – Love Ain’t for Keeping
Raul Midón – I Can See for Miles
Bobby McFerrin – My Generation
The Smithereens – Sparks/The Seeker
Matt Nathanson – The Real Me
Bettye LaVette –Love Reign O’er Me
Jason Isbell – Behind Blue Eyes
Fab Faux – We’re Not Gonna Take It
Willie Nile – This Kids Are Alright
Robyn Hitchcock – Substitute
The Gaslight Anthem – Baba O’Riley
Patti Smith – My Generation
Everyone – Won’t Get Fooled Again

(photos by Saed Hindash, via the NJ Star-Ledger)