Whenever I go to a show, I'm hoping for the unexpected. There are hits and misses, but generally if something unusual happens, that's a good thing. Since my iPod is busted and I'd rather be outside than attached to computers speakers, exposure to new music has been primarily through shows this summer. I think that's often the best way, as the live setting really allows an artist to inject some personality into their art, and sometimes a band's mannerisms are as compelling as the music. The summer is quickly coming to an end, but the shows keep coming.
Akron/Family - Castle Clinton, July 24th
We returned to Castle Clinton for Akron/Family, who called their music for "a thousand to ten thousand people." The crowd wasn't quite that large, but the sense of community was intense. It's always a welcome sign when a crowd is urged from their seats and subsequently move up close to stage, although it isn't that comfortable. The band meandered through the early part of their set, all hushed vocals and atmospheric twang, and I was ready to write it off as just another rock show. That was, until they launched into a solid extended jam, parading a bunch of songs without stopping. It was a blur, but I remember a lot of jumping, clapping and singing along. The set ended with the lines, sung in unison, "I wanna live in Woody Guthrie's America." With all respect to that man, I'd like to check out Akron/Family's idealized America first.
MP3: Akron/Family - Gone Beyond
Official Site: Akron/Family
Atlas Sound - South Street Seaport, July 25th
It was another familiar destination on Friday: the South Street Seaport. I caught Deerhunter there a year ago, and frontman Bradford Cox returned with his other project, Atlas Sound. Although the band involves other musicians, Bradford set up alone. It's daunting for a single person to command the attention of any crowd, never mind one as big as the Seaport's, but he was up to the task. What was immediately apparent was how nice his voice is - liberated from layers of guitars, it floated sweetly over the mix. The rest of the sound was samples, loops and the occasional strummed guitar, and while it was far sparser than the usual band, it was quite interesting. I'm going to make a point to listen to Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel.
MP3: Atlas Sound - River Card
MySpace: Atlas Sound
Official Site: Atlas Sound
MGMT - McCarren Pool, July 27th
I had some impression that MGMT was quite large, as evidenced by the much aggregated blog hype surrounding them. Add in a robust marketing team at Columbia Records, an appearance on various TV shows and some remixes, and you've got yourself a sensation. Of course, nothing magnifies buzz like a free show in Williamsburg, and despite some rain (what else is new?), there was an absurd line snaking around the park. After a wait, we finally got in, but unfortunately missed all of the Ting Tings and most of Black Moth Super Rainbow. Honestly, this wasn't devastating - I've unfortunately hit what resembles a saturation point, where more sets doesn't necessarily equate to more excitement. So, I was hoping for quality over quantity here.
The problem is, aside from the bombastic "Time To Pretend" and, just recently, the synthy-slide of "Electric Feel," MGMT haven't really done it for me. That makes me in a bit of a hole when it comes to appreciating them, granted, but I approached the set with open ears. By the end of it, I was baffled. This band is far from exceptional, which implies that the massive crowd in attendance was more a credit to strong publicity and less about strong material. That bothers me. People are, of course, free to gravitate to whatever appeals to them, and I consider all forms of media as tools to discover that "whatever." But unlike the vast majority of shows I've been to, this one felt forced. There wasn't enough going on stage to justify the packed venue - this was by far the most crowded Pool Party, and the line was still there at the very end of the set, a gratuitous eight minute encore. Ultimately, I have to name-check another band that formed in a college in summing up my feelings: Why?