Sunday, September 30, 2007

Interlude: Nine Nights, Nine Months

The Bowery Ballroom really is one of the best venues in the city. It's intimate without being claustrophobic, and loud without becoming distorted. Although I only made it there at the last possible day last semester, it's jumped to the top of the list after the shows I've been to over the last month. It's also been a great place to meet people, specifically those with really nice cameras. Check out Maryanne's great photos of the first two bands at My Wave. If you're carrying lenses and in attendance in the future, consider yourself warned.

I arrived just prior to the start of the first set (it's always an hour after doors open) to some appropriately indie rock jokes courtesy of Triumph the Insult Dog. It's a little strange when a recording of a comedy routine - with loud clapping - is played in a mostly empty space, but I guess I can appreciate the context. Just a few seconds before things got awkward, the lights dimmed and we were on.

Project Jenny, Project Jan

Although their name suggests some sort of indietronic girl/boy duo, Project Jenny, Project Jan are two guys from Brooklyn who do live up to the electro element. Although keyboardist and general instrumentalist Sammy Rubin was first to take the stage, things really took off when vocalist Jeremy Haines appeared, sporting a fashionable suit and tie. It was pretty clear from the onset that it was going to be a fun set, as Jeremy danced his way through the first song, while somehow maintaining control of his singing amidst the flamboyancy. There was a brief laptop hiccup between the first and second song, but he used the gap to really charm the crowd, alluding to karaoke and Journey. Aside from a slight "wardrobe malfunction" (he had to retie his shoelaces) a bit later, things went smoothly from there onward. PJ, PJ skip across a variety of genres, as Jeremy seems equally at home faux-rapping or drawing out a ballad (bilingual, too), most successfully during a tune that went "It's always sunny in Brooklyn." Good times.

You can stream the entirety of Project Jenny, Project Jan's XOXOXOXOXO at Viajando en Bus.

MySpace: Project Jenny, Project Jan
Official Site: Project Jenny, Project Jan

Dirty on Purpose

The live form of Dirty on Purpose is a lot more immediate than some of their sleepier album material suggests. While they're were still distinguished by fragile, somewhat twee-y singing (don't get me wrong; I like it), there was plenty of muscle from the instruments. They were, after all, the only band of the night with live drumming. And while Erika Foster's depature for Au Revoir Simone meant no female vocals (although one of her bandmates was in the audience), three fourths of the group sang and harmonized well. Thus, the set was, as the band is, loud and soft elements, and I think a really nice balance was achieved.

Here's the band's third session at WOXY.

MP3: Dirty on Purpose - Live at WOXY Lounge Acts (07.20.07)
MP3: Dirty on Purpose - Mind Blindness
MySpace: Dirty on Purpose
Official Site: Dirty on Purpose

Fujiya & Miyagi

I took a pretty circuitous path in getting into Fujiya & Miyagi, sleeping on the hype and getting hooked by the curiously catchy "Ankles Injuries," which kicked off the set, over the summer. While I was disappointed to miss them at the Seaport in June, I think this was a much better space to see them in, as they're the quietest headliner I've heard. I was a bit surprised to see a guitar at all, considering how skeletal some of their songs are (quite literally, in the case of "Collarbone"). To carry the metaphor further, it's the bass that provides the backbone of most tracks, and much of the instrumental is in the beat. Vocalist David "Miyagi" Best was at his mellow best, his whispered vocals remarkably effective, as the crowd was startlingly enthusiastic throughout.

I say startling because I wasn't that excited after the initial momentum of "Ankles" and "Photocopier." Unfortunately, the band only has nine songs on their LP, and a handful of other singles, and there isn't that much variety to the music. A couple sprawling instrumentals were a decent touch, but I got a little restless about halfway through. Thankfully, the urgency of "In One Ear & Out The Other" ("She got me wrapped around her little finger!") and, of course, "Collarbone" ("Got to get a new pair of shoes") really picked things up. I don't really understand the appeal of these seemingly random, stream of consciousness snippets, but I was definitely singing along, or at least whispering. I wouldn't say that F&M were mind-blowing live, but they were very solid, particularly in the home stretch. I look forward to their next album, and hopefully a subsequently denser set.

MP3: Fujiya & Miyagi - Collarbone
MP3: Fujiya & Miyagi - Electro Karaoke in the Negative Style
MySpace: Fujiya & Miyagi
Official Site: Fujiya & Miyagi

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Night Falls Over Berlin

Booka Shade is set to release a DJ-Kicks on October 22nd, as reported by Pitchfork. The duo was phenomenal when I caught them at Virgin Festival, and I really hope to catch them again next year. I've recently been getting into their first album proper, Memento, and it's remarkable. I haven't listened to many artists that can mix moodiness, head-nodding beats and technological sophistication into such an appealing package. While too abstract to be pop, their music's definitely got an accessibility that some of their peers could learn a lesson from. Check out an interview from earlier in the year at NOW Magazine, and enjoy the songs from the album below.

MP3: Booka Shade - Vertigo
MP3: Booka Shade - Cha!
MySpace: Booka Shade
Official Site: Booka Shade

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Interlude: Back At It

I'm thinking about just living in Webster Hall. Sunday marked the fourth time I’ve been in there over the last few weeks, and with a couple of definitives coming up, that count is sure to increase. The venue seems maligned by a sizeable chunk of the concert-going populace (poor sound and expensive drinks seem to be popular complaints), but I find it to be a decent spot to catch a show from a relatively bigger band. I’m also glad that they’ve been triple booking more often than not, giving openers the chance to play to big crowds. There’s a pretty interesting article in the Vancouver Sun (via brooklynvegan) that discusses concert saturation, and while that trend probably applies in NYC, I definitely approve.

Art in Manila

Orenda Fink’s new band adopts some of the sleepy, restrained atmosphere of Azure Ray, but the increased lineup and live setting added some gratifying oomph. The presence of keyboardist Adrienne Verhoeven (formerly of the Anniversary) led to some fantastic harmonizing, but the band is quite clearly structured around Orenda. She has a distinct voice, maintaining a lovely balance between ethereal and earthy. While the set heightened my appreciation for her vocals, it did settle into a pleasant, if somewhat complacent groove.

That is, anyhow, until Adrienne leapt from her keyboard, banging a tambourine, and the she and Orenda proceeded sing into the same mic - loudly! I wish bands would do something that spontaneous at every show. With that momentum, they launched into the title track of their new album, Set The Woods On Fire, and finished things off. Expect to hear more from Art in Manila soon.

MP3: Art in Manila - Set The Woods On Fire
MP3: Art in Manila - The Abomination
MySpace: Art in Manila

Johnathan Rice

Johnathan Rice was hilarious, and that's a compliment. He started things off solo and acoustically, delivering a weighty love song that showcased his strong voice and some pretty interesting lyrics. Thankfully, a full band joined him for the majority of the rest of it, and they played a typical but solid set of rock songs, with the other guitarist switching between electric, steel and acoustic. The music was good, if not terribly exciting, but the banter was gold. An audience member handed Jonathan a note ("I appreciate it"), whose contents he refused to disclose "for your reputation and mine" before dropping in a "so, Union Square at 3 am?" Later, the bassist would be the recipient of another, and Johnathan would (half?) kiddingly inform the crowd to direct all notes "towards the center of the stage." All of this was delivered in his unassuming drawl, which just made it all the more effective.

Johnathan would later be joined by none other than Jenny Lewis (and harsh lighting) for a duet, and the crowd went predictably wild. RK drummer Jason Boesel would also join in for finale "We're All Stuck Out in the Desert and We're Gonna Die," in which Jonathan exhorted the crowd to sing along. It was a fitting closer: although somewhat out of place amidst the indie kids, Johnathan made the best of it and connected, at least for a little while.

MySpace: Jonathan Rice
Official Site: Jonathan Rice

Rilo Kiley
(Livin' in a Dreamworld)

Despite the fact that we'd seen half of Rilo Kiley via cameo by this point, there was an inexplicable gap between sets. Finally, the quartet - along with Orenda and Kristin Gundred of Grand Ole Party - took the stage around 11 pm. Let me say up front that the wait was absolutely worth it. For all the flak that Rilo Kiley have been taking for Under The Blacklight, their power as a live band seems undiminished. In retrospect, more stuff happened in this set than anything I've seen since the chameleon Patrick Wolf (who plays Webster Hall next Wednesday - plug! - although I'm currently not attending). Furthermore, I like the album. Aside from the indulgence on "The Moneymaker," I think most of the songs are pop gems, and if that's because I'm ignorant of the bands and styles they're (allegedly) caricaturing, so be it. Although not quite as interesting as More Adventurous, I think Under The Blacklight's very solid. Having said all that, I'm glad they spread out the setlist to include most of their back catalogue.

Things kicked off with last album's highlights: "It's A Hit" and "Portions For Foxes," separated by "Close Call. " As the first songs I heard from the band, it was fantastic to finally hear them live. The spotlight was, of course, perpetually on Jenny Lewis, and her voice remains RK's strongest asset. Equally adept at projecting heartbreaking vulnerability and devastating strength, Jenny's vocals left me agape throughout the night and judging by the crazy enthusiastic crowd, I wasn't alone. Additional vocals from Orenda and Kirsten were a nice touch, as well, and I pretty awed when Orenda did the trumpet part on the first track, and a few songs thereafter. Is there anything she can't do?

But as the set progressed, Blake Sennett impressed as well, and not simply because he flashed a belt with a ticker that ran "B-MAN," his birthday present from the night before. Aside from playing some blistering guitar all night, he fronted "Dreamworld," which is one of my favorites off the new album. That version is nice and swirly, but the live version featured an impressive four-part harmony, and in my mind it was a fine choice for Jimmy Kimmel. Later, the rest of the band would leave Blake and bassist Pierre De Reeder wielding dual ukuleles for "Ripchord" ("You can rip my cord, Blake!"). Although I don't find the song terrible impressive on record, it was really cool in live form, and pretty indicative of how the band really pulled all the stops over the course of the night.

And that was really what made the show so successful: instead of settling on a pattern, the band switched things up with every song. Or even within songs, as was the case of the "Under The Blacklight" loop turned current single "Silver Lining," which featured huge bouncing balls that burst into explosions of confetti. The confessional "I Never" followed, switching the festive atmosphere to a more somber mood, without sacrificing any of the quality. A nod to side projects led to Jenny's "Rise Up With Fists!" sans Watson Twins and The Elected's "Greetings In Braille," but alas, no "Such Great Heights." A deservedly massive applause resounded during the encore break, and a really touching "Give A Little Love" (dedicated to Blake) followed. "Does He Love You?" was the finale, and after a set like this, I think we all do.

Here's Rilo Kiley at the Glass House in Pomona, California, recorded on January 9th, 2004. It's a stripped down, Jenny-and-Blake acoustic affair, and it's great. Enjoy!

1. Intro
2. A Better Son/Daughter
3. Bulletproof
4. So Long
5. Go Ahead
6. More Adventurous
7. Somebody Else’s Clothes (Robert Palmer Cover)
8. Simple Irresistible Intro
9. Simple Irresistible
10. The Absence of God
11. It Just Is
12. I Never
13. With Arms Outstretched Intro
14. With Arms Outstretched
15. Panty Banter
16. Rock N Roll Suicide (David Bowie Cover)
17. Encore Break
18. Glendora Banter
19. Steve (Take 1)
20. Steve (Take 2)
21. Salute My Shorts
22. Spectacular Views

Entire Set: Mediafire
MySpace: Rilo Kiley
Official Site: Rilo Kiley

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Swing Your Heartache

I've been listening to copious amounts of Young Galaxy's self-titled lately. They're yet another offshoot of the Arts & Crafts family, and what with singer Stephen Ramsay being the former tour guitarist of Stars, they fit nicely into the family. While the comparisons are ripe, Young Galaxy create indie pop that's more akin to the gauzy epics found in - you guessed it - shoegaze. Album opener "Swing Your Heartache" stretches the chorus of "C'mon babe" to a soaring breaking point, and while there are some questionable lyrics, dream pop was never about the words. The heart of the album does a nice job of mixing sleepy textures with rockier ones. The late track "Embers" enters singer-songwriter territory, with Catherine McCandless delivering perfectly restrained vocals amidst a hushed backdrop that gets really pretty about halfway through. Unfortunately, the band's up in Canada at least for the next month, but I definitely look forward to seeing them in the future. Maybe they'll open for Stars.

MP3: Young Galaxy - Swing Your Heartache
MP3: Young Galaxy - Embers
MySpace: Young Galaxy
Official Site: Young Galaxy

In other news (because I've been trying to keep up)...

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gets slammed by our uptown neighbors. Is it just me, or would our fearless leader just give the guy a hug?

Fluxblog has new Hot Chip. Well, new at one point, at least.

Appearances aside, Virgin Mobile and Flickr does not a good combination make.

Pitchfork has a stream of the new video for Emily Haines' "Our Hell." The timing's curious, but video's beautiful, in a suitably Soft Skeleton way.

Hockey's fun even when it doesn't count.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Interlude: The Scene That Celebrates Itself

I guess I waited over two years for Friday night. Metric has made it a bit of a custom to play the Ottawa Bluesfest over the last couple years, and I've made it a tradition to miss them. When the band finally announced they were playing Webster Hall, I was overjoyed...until I realized that Mahogany was also playing that night. But things worked out pretty nicely in the end, and it turned into a pretty epic night of concert-going.

The night began with Toronto's Crystal Castles, whose striking three-strobe light show complemented an abrasively danceable set. Singer Alice was a madwoman onstage, leaping from side to side while the crowd dotted her with flashes like overzealous paparazzi. I've rarely seen Webster Hall so active, certainly never for an opener, but the urgent synth lines and percussion made movement inevitable. Unfortunately, Alice's singing was more akin to yelling, and while that element distinguishes the group from the next knob twiddler, it's a definitely turn off for me. Still, props to the band for keeping things moving, and while verbal crowd interaction would've been nice, they're come off as more distinctive for that detachment.

MP3: Crystal Castles - Air War
MP3: Crystal Castles - 3 XxzxcZ Me
MySpace: Crystal Castles


Metric started a bit strangely with two new songs that left me scratching my head. They sounded promising, but it's an odd move to greet such a giant crowd with unfamiliar material. Thankfully, the bilingual "Poster of a Girl" sated the audience, and the first pumper "Dead Disco" sealed it, the floor shaking under the en masse jumping. But the band kept interspersing new material, and while it's probably about time for a new album, I was disappointed with every unfamiliar guitar chord or first verse they played. It's selfish, but I've listened to Metric to death - they're in my top ten - and not even hearing what I'd consider to be staples - "Succexy," "Live It Out," "The List," "Too Little Too Late" - was really a let down.

Still, what was there was pretty awesome. "Empty" really showcased Emily's voice amidst a nocturnal backdrop reminiscent of her Soft Skeleton guise, but the guitar pyrotechnics that followed have never kicked so hard on record, and it was a blast to see her shake her head with the chorus. "Hustle Rose" used the same soft-hard alternating to great effect, with an absolutely monster synth line on the chorus, and "Combat Baby" is still one of their strongest, the perfect pop song. Things settled down as the main set came to an end, as "Rock Me Now" featured Jimmy Shaw's falsetto, and Emily would eventually convince the crowd to participate, no mean feat. It wouldn't have been my selection from Grow Up And Blow Away, as some of those other tracks are just sublime, but I appreciate the fact that they did play an older cut. The band left as the vocalization looped, but returned shortly after for an encore, which featured an anthemic rendition of "Monster Hospital," followed by another new track, and the set came to what I really considered a premature end.

Ultimately, not quite all that I had hoped for, and a bit of a bummer after waiting so long. Still, it's nice to have finally seen Metric, and there were definitely moments in the set. I'll be there the next time they swing by, hopefully with a bit more familiarity with the setlist; this new album should be strong.

Here's Metric at the Bottom of Hill, San Francisco, recorded on October 30th, 2003, with a lot of tracks that I wish I had heard Friday night but didn't (boo hoo). Enjoy!

1. Intro
2. IOU
3. Succexy
4. Combat Baby
5. Wet Blanket
6. The List
7. Live It Out
8. Hustle Rose
9. On A Slow Night

MySpace: Metric
Official Site: Metric

There was no way I was going to end my night on such an ambigious note, especially not at 10:15. The scheduling quirk that put Metric and Mahogany on the same night actually worked somewhat in my advantage, as the Bowery Ballroom - where the former was playing - started off later. I got downtown as quickly as I could, but unfortunately missed first opener Soundpool entirely, which is a shame as I've been digging their album On High quite a bit. I managed to catch the last song of Elika's set, but lovely as it was, I can't really say much more. Anyhow, both bands will definitely be addressed as a later time, as they're too darn good for me not to return to them, but there was plenty of music yet to come.


Mahogany's set was bittersweet. I learned on the day of the show that five of the band's seven members had left over the summer, leaving Ana Breton and Andrew Prinz. Stopping by their studio in March remains the best interview experience I've ever had, hands down, and in the short time that I spent with them, they really struck me as incredibly passionate and creative people. When an entirely new rhythm section - with half the bass - and a new lead guitarist stepped onto the stage shortly after 11 pm, I felt a bit of trepidation, but after the first soaring notes of "Tesselation (Formerly Plateau One)," everything was okay. I realized that, despite the lineup change, the songs remain fully intact dream pop gems, and as long as some form of Mahogany exists to play them, well, nothing's really changed.

What has happened is Ana's emergence as the primary female vocalist, and she filled the role beautifully. At one point, an audience member to my right leaned over and yelled something to the effect of, "We're privileged to be hearing them!" I have to agree; the set approached the lofty heights of Slowdive in its heyday (yes, really), and perhaps Metric's quick ending was the best thing that could have happened that night. The set ended far too early with a new song, which I believed is entitled "Silk City," and it was absolutely sublime. I can't wait to hear the next album. The only criticism I have is pretty straightforward: please play longer sets!

MP3: Mahogany - My Bed is My Castle
MP3: Mahogany - Supervitesse
MP3: Mahogany - Springtime, Save Our Country
MySpace: Mahogany

Ulrich Schnauss

I was getting legitimately fatigued, and the extended break in between sets didn't help matters, but the wait was so worth it. One could say that Ulrich delivered the most highbrow DJ set ever, but that's an understatement. Ulrich doesn't play so much as compose, combining epic laptop-assisted orchestras with piano playing. There's a disarming simplicity to the beats, but once a song builds to its crescendo, it's downright unstoppable. It's really something that has to be experienced live; as lovely as the studio material is, it doesn't compare. Simply put, I danced (or whatever the equivalent of excessive head bobbing is) more during this hour than I have for a long, long while. Heck, even the normally stoic photographer in front of me was getting into it.

In between the epic soundscapes, things got nice and intimate as a guest guitarist strummed acoustically and sang on "Shine." It was a neat changeup, but didn't quite compare to the main set's finale, which left said guitarist on the stage floor, frantically shredding his strings with whatever was there, including the microphone pole. The act was pretty reflective of the set as a whole, as I was pretty astounded by the intensity present, which is pretty hilarious considering I was worried if things would be loud enough. Sometimes, it's good to be surprised.

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