Bonnie “Prince” Billy / Old Calf
Fry Springs Beach Club; Charlottesville, VA
“You’re a good man, Charlie Brown,” quipped the bartender as I left a tip on my tab and headed out of the nearly empty Fry Springs Beach Club. The venue, with its art deco glow and pleasant ’50s musk, had a time capsule vibe, so a vintage Peanuts reference didn’t seem like a very strange way to cap off the night. Will Oldham and his crew were some of the few faces still lingering, as they packed up their gear and loaded it into the van out front.
Earlier, though, Fry Springs had been far from empty. A sold-out crowd filed past the front lounge’s outdated couches and into the venue’s spacious ballroom. Will’s brother Ned, of Anomoanon and Palace Brothers, teamed up with accordionist Matty Metcalfe to kick off the night under the clever moniker Old Calf. The duo boasted expertly crafted tunes as well as sidesplitting t-shirts depicting an elderly bovine walking with a cane.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s ensemble soon took the stage and chugged through a lengthy set, adding momentum with each riff and refrain. Tunes from Oldham’s latest album, Beware (TMT Review), were interspersed throughout, but the evening felt more like a continually blossoming musical moment. As things heated up, Oldham wished aloud for the room’s old disco ball to be turned on and, just as the switch was flipped, the night really hit its peak. The energy was palpable, from those sweating at stage front to those peering from the wings.
For the encore, Ned returned to the stage and joined his brother’s band for a couple more songs. The brothers belted together into the microphone, channeling the unbridled spark and spirit of their familial bond. It was a special moment and a perfect conclusion to the night’s sonic progression. The crowd spilled out into the Virginia night and Oldham and company prepared to descend deeper into the South.
93 Feet East; London, UK
While I should have been at 93 Feet East watching the support bands, I missed the opening acts because I was at an Indian restaurant eating Lamb Vindaloo. It was delicious, but probably not the most ideal pre-show bite given Telepathe's propensity for massively heavy bass. Sure, Dance Mother, their meticulously produced debut full-length, is big on the low-end as much as the high melodies and percussion, but live... good grief, I was certainly feeling the lamb in my tummy.
Telepathe's skewing of hip-hop sounds lets the bass propel their pop/dance ballads like a heartbeat, and although the sheen of Dance Mother was slightly lost in a live setting, the group's semi-detached fervor was in full force, with beats plodding and vocals soaring just slightly above. Their sound exudes a particularly sensual feeling, taking dance music's overt sexuality (that often ends up either cringe-worthy or kitschy) and subverting it, enjoying the small emotive flights and club aesthetics as much as the pop romanticism.
I was never sure how ‘danceable’ their stuff was, though, and this full-to-the-brim venue didn't make that any clearer: you could barely move, let alone flail. But the performance did shed light on their paradoxic bedroom vs. club dichotomy; it's a bit of both, deftly combining respective feelings for something warm and in between. Working on a couple of synths and samplers and playing pretty much all the songs from the album, there was always a distinct and audible passion. And even if, like these two, it's stylized, dressed up in white, and surrounded by smoke, the music resonated and felt especially real.
Music Hall of Williamsburg; Brooklyn, NY
When it was announced that Mastodon would play the Music Hall of Williamsburg, one thing came to mind: this show would sell out fast. MHW seemed way too small to house an act as popular as the ’Don. Well, my initial fears turned out to be correct, as I sat online for about four hours, constantly refreshing Ticketmaster’s web page to try to purchase tickets, only to be blocked out each time until the damning words "Sold Out" finally appeared. Needless to say, I was crushed, as the Atlanta metal group was at the top of my live wishlist for some time. A month of deep sadness and despondence set in, but it was finally the good folks at Warner Bros. who hooked me up with a ticket to the show and, subsequently, a ticket to my salvation.
The show fell on Mother’s Day, and as I spent the obligatory time with the family out on Long Island, I kept thinking about how I would finally get to see my favorite metal band, in all their fleshy glory. As I helped pick up the dishes from lunch, I couldn’t help but thrust one foot upon the dishwasher, strapping on my air guitar and gesticulating wildly a medley of Crack the Skye tunes, even going so far as to croon the words of album closer "The Last Baron" to my mother. "I guess they would say, we could set this world ablaze" I sang whilst inviting her to jump into the wormhole with me, only to be met with a confused and semi-saddened “What did I do wrong that my son wound up like this” look on her face.
I arrived back from the Island too late to catch openers Intronaut and Kylesa, though word was that the double drum stoner stylings of Kylesa were something to behold. I walked into the antechamber of MHW as Kylesa played their last note and decided to check out the mightily stocked merch table. On the table was a tip jar that invited all to drop any “Tips or Drugs or Tips for Drugs.” I perused the t-shirt collection, and my eyes fell on one particularly appealing design: a crackled prog-looking design that you would think was an authentic shirt from Rush’s 1974 tour if it didn’t say Mastodon. In addition to the shirt, I procured a handsome tour poster depicting a group of extraterrestrial mind’s eye psychonauts wading in a sea of consciousness. A quick depletion of my wallet later, I stuffed the shirt in my pocket, rolled up the poster, and headed inside.
The room inside was definitely packed, not oversold though, and the steady stream of A/C pumped into the Hall made things crisp and cozy. I ambled onto the elevated platform to the left of the stage, staked out a safe spot with a good view, and planted my feet firmly. Mastodon soon took the stage and immediately belted out the first transcendent notes of Crack the Skye’s lead track "Oblivion." They proceeded to play the entirety of Crack the Skye from start to finish, without missing a note. Enlisting the help of a keyboard player, tracks like "Quintessence" broke the terrestrial boundaries that once held Mastodon in check. The synths bubbled and churned as superimposed videos of exploding nebulae and drifting stargates meshed with stern faces and martial scenarios from filmed depictions of Tsarist Russia.
After the 13-minute epic "The Last Baron" closed out their first set, the band left the stage, leaving the keyboardist alone to provide some otherworldly sonic soundscapes to match the trippy animation sequence on the video screen. Within minutes, the group was back on stage and the keyboard player had left. With a booming note, the video screen changed to the tri-headed forest beast from Blood Mountain, and they raged into
"Bladecatcher," as Brent Hinds whistled and shredded his Flying V through the track.
They played four more songs off Blood Mountain, which provided a stark contrast to the songs off Crack the Skye, since the latter album primarily features bassist Troy Sanders on vocals rather than Brent Hinds. Ripping through "Colony of Birchmen," "The Wolf is Loose," "Crystal Skull," and "Capillarian Crest," the group hardly missed a beat, and as they went further into their back catalog, the songs became increasingly intense along with the crowd. The animation switched once again to a gigantic ocean sea with an enormous white whale cresting the top of the water. They played "Seabeast," "Megalodon," and "Iron Tusk," all from 2004’s Leviathan, which drove the crowd into a mosh-heavy frenzy. Finally, they closed out their set with one of the breakout tracks from 2002’s Remission, "March of the Fire Ants." Its pummeling lead riff capped a near-perfect performance, as the group raised their guitars in triumph and exited the stage.
Mastodon had played an hour and a half of pure metal mayhem, shredding solos, and intricate interplay. The performance confirmed Mastodon as true workhorses who don’t skimp on the live energy, giving their fans every penny’s worth.
Glenn Branca: Lesson No. 3 (A Tribute to Steve Reich)
Issue Project Room; Brooklyn NY
So, Glenn Branca is debuting a piece in what used to be a Brooklyn can factory -- an old brick building complete with cool metal clad doors that are like two-feet thick. The temptation is to see this as an opportunity to catch a latter-day glimpse of New York's past life as the home of dirty art rock. But as it turns out, the Issue Project Room is as equally clean as it is cavernous, and the appearance of the audience, seated in metal folding chairs, conjured fears that established society has finally reached its creepy tentacles into the sacred halls of punk rock.
Luckily, Branca, perhaps sensing this fear himself, imposed his will on whatever stuffiness lingered in the air by prefacing his piece with a personal "fuck you" to the Village Voice, on account of them having the balls to accuse his Lesson No. 3 as nothing more than a suck-up move in the direction of Steve Reich (to whom the piece is dedicated).
And a "fuck you" well aimed it was, as Lesson No. 3 is anything but empty Reich worship. The first few minutes of the performance were, above all, funky. Not almost funky: there was an actual groove in there. And just in case anyone was resisting a groove, Branca, while conducting the four guitarists and drummer making up the ensemble, added visual verification, suggestively wagging his knees the way you do only when you're conducting music that's actually funky.
Once established, though, the groove was systematically abandoned over the course of the rest of the piece. Change came on relatively slowly, as the guitarist's interlocking figures opened up, moving from distinct rhythmic elements, through the gradual addition of harmonics, and into a collective roar that managed to be equal parts rhythm and drone. When the figures dissolved into tremolo, it was hardly noticeable. While it's primarily an entertaining listen, the piece would also function pretty well as a sonic diagram of entropic decay.
At least if you discount the drum work. Paranoid Critical Revolution's Libby Fab somehow had enough left in the tank after her band's set -- which, at its best, brought to mind lightning bolts and Lightning Bolt -- to maintain a tight, heavy backbeat, leading the slight acceleration and dynamic build that occurs throughout the piece.
Let's not turn this into a formal analysis though. Lesson No. 3 is a pretty weighty title for a piece from which pleasure largely involves the feelings of being gradually enveloped in sound and losing yourself in the overtones and rhythm. There's enough meaty intellectual content in Lesson No. 3 to encourage study, but the real lesson here has more to do with the body than the mind.
WFUV's "The Alternative Side" Launch Party with Pela and The Postelles
The Mercury Lounge; New York, NY
What could have been an otherwise tame Monday was suddenly transformed into a Monday That Rocked by my pal Jeff, a DJ at the legendary indie New York City radio station WFUV. An invitation to a party celebrating the launch of WFUV's new internet radio station The Alternate Side, featuring the Postelles and Pela? Don't mind if I do! Bonus points for said party being held at The Mercury Lounge, one of Manhattans' best music venues ever.
Since I am starting to border on being what NYU students would refer to as an Old, I was rather pleased to attend an early show featuring only two bands. New York's The Postelles opened the show with their wholly earnest take on indie boy doo-wop, imploring the crowd to nod along contentedly. How could anyone take issue with a group whose lead singer looks like Shia LaBeouf? I'm a glutton for punishment, so the ear-friendly, sweet stylings of The Postelles do not win my heart, but I wouldn't argue if they were to be nominated some sort of Adorableness Award. The Postelles just finished working on a single with Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr., entitled “123 Stop.”
Pela are everything I like about pop-punk. That is not to say, however, that they fall into this category, because they are a bit more complex. It's a simple fact that certain bands don't represent themselves as well on record, and until tonight, I'd only been moderately interested in Pela's music. After a 45-minute set, I was converted to official Pela fandom. Pop-punk enters my mind, because while Pela possess many live tics of the genre, such as incessant, infectious grinning by lead singer Billy McCarthy and picture-perfect synchronized group jumping, they also possess such raw substance that they could never be mistaken as such. While The Wrens certainly show no shortage of energy on stage, Pela remind me of a slightly younger version of that band, complete with soaring harmonies and deceptively simple guitar licks that creep up on you with their brilliance. McCarthy smiled at us and says, “I'm feeling crazy rock ‘n’ roll tonight... that feeling came to me as I was sleeping in the van on the Lower East Side. Shine on, you crazy diamonds,” gesturing to the band.
Pela mainly stuck to material from their 2007 full-length, Anytown Graffiti, leading off with its first three tracks, “Waiting on the Stairs,” “Lost to the Lonesome,” and “Drop Me Off,” but we were suddenly treated to the title track of their elusive upcoming album, Rise Ye Sunken Ships, along with another new track, “The Chapel Song.” My personal favorite was the mourning, sparkling “Strange Days,” also from the new album. The set felt cut short, as Pela had to finish in time for The Mercury Lounge to have its late show, but a rollicking cover of The Clash's “Guns of Brixton” dulled the shock with a satisfying snarl. My companion, Pela show veteran Juliet, informed me that “Guns of Brixton” is often interchanged with The Pixies' “Nimrod's Son” or “Holiday Song” as a closer. Sounds like a win/win to me.
Pela recently split from their record label, Great Society, and are currently shopping around for someone to release Rise Ye Sunken Ships, naming July as a possible release date. Until then, those of you in Europe can probably catch them on tour with The Gaslight Anthem. Grump. Someone find these dudes a label already!
Cake Shop; New York, NY
This time next month, Angel Deradoorian will be a rock star. Dirty Projectors, for which she plays bass and sings, is set to release an album June 9 that will surely be their breakthrough. And I know you've heard about their collaborations with the likes of David Byrne and Björk. Well, okay -- maybe Bitte Orca (Domino) won't make Dirty Projectors the next Radiohead. But the band is certainly bound for Animal Collective- and Arcade Fire-like levels of popularity.
All of which is to say that in a few months we may not still be able to see Deradoorian play to a hundred or so friends and admirers packed into a basement venue like Cake Shop. The event was a record release party for her new EP, Mind Raft (Lovepump United), which had just hit stores that morning. Her Dirty Projectors comrades clustered supportively at the front of the stage; the band's singer/songwriter Dave Longstreth grinned through the entire set like a proud papa. And, as it turned out, Deradoorian's backing band was a real family affair: Her brother Aram played the drums, and two dear friends covered bass and keyboards.
Deradoorian's music isn't terribly similar to Dirty Projectors. In place of the bright, symphonic sounds that band makes, we get moody, layered, sometimes claustrophobic tracks that fall somewhere between PJ Harvey's Nick Cave period and Antony and The Johnsons. Although Deradoorian seemed nervous as all get-out between songs, she never let it interfere with her performance. Her powerful singing, on tracks such as "You Carry the Deed" and "High Road," was especially impressive in an underground cave with notoriously poor acoustics. The set topped out at about 25 minutes, as Deradoorian made it through the entire EP and (I think) one additional song before running out of material. But that was sufficient time to impress this reviewer, to say nothing of the rest of her wrapt audience.