Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Interlude: June Evenings, Part 1

Sometimes, I think I'm getting too old for this. That's ridiculous, of course - I can't even get into some venues yet, and I doubt I'll be trading my earplugs in anytime soon. But the feeling has less to do with age and more to do with saturation. I assume that at some point, live music just won't do it for me anymore. Thankfully, I haven't hit that point yet, and I'm usually happy that I decide to attend a show. Last month I was pretty much happy all the time. One of my goals this month is to improve the timeliness of these posts, but for now, I'm still catching up.

Central Park - June 14th

I like to tell people that I was there before Vampire Weekend hit it big. The anecdote is usually ended with something along the lines of, "...and I figured I'd never hear from them again." How wrong I was. I haven't mentioned them since a spectacular Mercury Lounge show last year, but their debut album, which was admittedly a rehash of Blue-CDR, is one of the most hyped releases of this year. But you already knew that. Thus, their headlining slot at Summerstage was along the lines of a triumphant homecoming - a very well attended homecoming. We were pretty much on line throughout Born Ruffians' set, which is a pity as I haven't really given them a decent listen. We eventually abandoned the line, and that's when the rain came. That thinned the crowd somewhat, and we (finally) got in.

A-Trak & Kid Sister
A-Trak was billed as Kanye's DJ, and his party-friendly mixing was a fine distraction as the rain dissipated. It's amazing what a little bass can do for a soaked bunch, and along with the obligatory "Stronger" sample, it got the party going. I can't say the same for Kid Sister, who's visual presence was more compelling than her vocals. If it was singing, it was on the hoarse side, and if it was rapping, it was particularly interesting lyrically. It's a bit of a genre gap to pair a hip-hop act with a white-collar indie rock band, and unfortunately little was done to bridge it.

MySpace: Kid Sister

Vampire Weekend

I took a class over the last eight weeks entitled, "Writing About Popular Music." Our last class was devoted to the phenomenon that was Vampire Weekend, focusing on their dizzying ascent from obscurity to ubiquity. It was, for a time, completely impossible to avoid hearing of them. Naturally, it's spawned a decent amount of backlash, but now that it's cooled, I'm thinking this band could be around for a while. I was once again impressed by their live chops. Their collegiate songs of love and grammar, which originated just on the west side of town, fit snugly. Even as the rain began pouring down again, the crowd dug it. And although the stage was massive, that college basement-style camaraderie was still there.

The bottom line isn't effective marketing, but infectious melodies. These songs are clever, but without being exclusive. "One (Blake's Got A New Face)" was a raucous sing-along, while "Oxford Comma" made absurdity awesome. Speaking of which, the band brough on master of ceremonies Andrew W.K. for a cover of Tom Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More," a firm closer for a triumphant set. I think the band has a bright future - they played a new song, which sounded good - I just hope they don't play Terminal 5 next time around.

MP3: Vampire Weekend - Mansard Roof
MP3: Vampire Weekend - Exit Music (For A Film)
MySpace: Vampire Weekend
Official Site: Vampire Weekend

Music Hall of Williamsburg - June 19th

I hadn't been to Music Hall of Williamsburg in an astounding eight months. Most bands will generally play both Music Hall and Bowery Ballroom, so hoping boroughs is usually unnecessary. But as much as I love Bowery, it was great to be back to the Music Hall, which now has a steel, rotating marquee. The spacious stage is a nice change from compact Manhattan clubs, and frankly, the bouncers are a lot nicer. Thanks to Naomi for the tickets!

Frog Eyes

"Frog Eyes is about freedom," said singer Carey Mercer and damn if he didn't demonstrate just that. The guy was completely uninhibited, dreaming about white rum and comparing his singing to "a boar dying in a tar pit." Admittedly, his voice was an acquired taste, and the chaotic, somewhat abrasive style made it hard to get into. But Mercer was a treat, from his stage banter to his endearing habit of ending each song with a falsetto flourish. The rest of the band soldiered on, with rhythmic drumming and guitar crunches, but it was mostly a one man show.

MP3: Frog Eyes - Bushels
MP3: Frog Eyes - The Oscillator's Hum
MySpace: Frog Eyes
Official Site: Frog Eyes

Shearwater's Rook has been quite well received, and Jonathan Meiburg is a big reason why. He alternates between a delicate, Owen Pallet-esque delivery and soaring outbursts, demonstrating some impressive vocal gymnastics. Each song is a breathing, living entity - with plenty of space for Meiburg's voice to command attention. There's a strong element of orchestral pop, with banjo and strings, and although drummer Thor Harris looks like he's in a Scandanavian metal band, he creates steady, unobtrusive percussion. But unlike the overflowing hooks of, say, Stars, this is a more pastoral affair. As such, the lighting was kept dramatically low, and often it was just Meiburg and some keys or strums. It was a tight 50 minute set - the album is even shorter - but not a moment was wasted. Gorgeous, enveloping, emotional - Rook might just be this year's Boxer, and I can't think of higher praise than that.

MP3: Shearwater - Leviathan, Bound
MP3: Shearwater - Rooks
MySpace: Shearwater
Official Site: Shearwater

Winter Garden, World Financial Center - June 24th

I'm used to getting off at Fulton and walking East, but this night I made an about-face. The World Financial Center, which is just a stone's throw from Ground Zero, makes for an unlikely venue. It's essentially a lobby, with (fake?) palm trees and benches. Security was unfortunately tight, with prime standing area roped off. That said, there wasn't a whole lot to see, but there was plenty to hear. I missed most of the opener, , as I was waiting for my Sonic Youth tickets (more on that later), but thankfully there wasn't much of a wait for the headliner.

Ulrich Schnauss
I saw Ulrich under very different circumstances way back in September. I'm not sure if either case was necessarily better, but this was definitely a more detached experience. As I said, most of the audience was seated, with the overflow standing to the side. While things would thankfully change in the next Winter Garden event, this setup really isolated the performer, and made it impossible to get into a communal rhythm. The bright side were the incredible visuals, and since Ulrich's compositions resemble classical music, it wouldn't be a stretch to call a recital, rather than a rock 'n roll show. But the music is still lovely - Ulrich crafts some of the most cinematic, breath-taking moments that I've heard in electronica. Unfortunately, there weren't any vocal collaborators, and the only real moment of tension came during the distortion-heavy finale. Definitely a worthwhile appearance, but one that could have been more intimate.

MP3: Ulrich Schnauss - A Song About Hope
MP3: Ulrich Schnauss - Monday - Paracetamol
MySpace: Ulrich Schnauss

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