Purity Ring / Blue Hawaii
The Metro; Chicago, IL

[05-03-2013]

Purity Ring have mastered the dangling-keys sleight. Similar to an irreverent toddler or an idiot crow, I’m easily distracted by bright lights and pretty colors (and booze, plenty of booze). When you reduce Purity Ring to their essence, the entire musical aspect is Corin Roddick on Ableton with a synth and Megan James flitting around on stage singing. In any other case, this would be boring as shit. However, they bring one of the best sets of dangling keys to the table: a massive branching network of 20 light-up cocoons responding to both music and the movements of Megan James. After four or so gin and tonics, the Purity Ring live experience felt weirdly similar to when I would get too hyperactive when I was 5 and my grandma would put on Fantasia. In both instances, I shut up immediately and watched.

Unfortunately for opener Blue Hawaii, also consisting of a dude (Alexander Cowan) on synth/sampler and a chick (Raphaelle Standell-Preston) running around singing, they did not have a wild light-up tree to distract people from the fact their show is basically a DJ set. Ergo, the experience felt like a lanky guy who looked weirdly similar to DJ Qualls and a girl who looked like one of the violinists in Arcade Fire trying to fill out The Metro, one of the best live venues in Chicago. The effect was underwhelming.

Purity Ring, however, made up for the boring-ass first 40 minutes of my time spent at this show. The crowd was way more eclectic than I’d envisioned. I was expecting a herd of attractive vacuous faces clad in overpriced neons from American Apparel; what I got was these same people interspersed with dudes in True Religion jeans and Wrigleyville beezys who look like they have memberships at Flirty Girl Fitness. I swear to god there was a couple in their 50s. Whatever. Anyway, the trap bass rattle, epileptic lights, and Megan James wandering around the stage in some sort of weird wedding dress (she makes her own clothes; I had an internal dialogue the entire show over whether or not she made it) kept me entertained for an hour, which is all I ever wanted. Oh, and there was a Soulja Boy cover. Let that be the rest of my life: Soulja Boy covers and Blue Hawaiians.

Spiritualized
Wonder Ballroom; Portland, OR

[04-09-2013]

I’d better just go ahead and admit that I fucking love Spiritualized. If J. Spaceman were to walk onstage and sing the alphabet, I’d punch myself in the face. Irrational enough? There’s a certain mood here that I’m trying to capture and make the metaphorical crux for this review.

I like to show up early, because I like to see the other kinds of people that show up early. Plus I don’t have a lot of friends. And I’m short, so venue floor space gains the price of Times Square reality once a 6-foot-5-type jerk-off tries to squeeze their ass right in front of me. I assumed watching Spiritualized wasn’t going to be the kind of activity during which I would dance senselessly with a bevy of strangers, and with the exception of a drunk and/or shrooming girl with great hippie dance moves who knew all of the words, I was right.

So here’s the kind of people who would show up early to a Spiritualized show: other short people who really like this band, “gear” dudes who love taking pictures of other people’s pedal boards (p.s. this shit is boring, no one cares, stop), mid-30 year olds who like to talk about their interactions with “famous” people (one lady went from some dude in Cake, to Wayne Coyne, to Gus Van Zandt in the same breath), some other folks with no friends who were actually nice to talk to (we spoke of rent prices in various cities), and people who love living their concert experience through a fucking iPhone (also, stop, no one cares, etc.). Also, the venue decided to get its fog machine on nice and early, and nothing is weirder than hanging out in a pre-fabbed fog room in full light with strangers.

I take a lot of vitamin-D to help deal with the sun-less Portland winter, and I also listen to a lot of feel-good music. I mean, all music experiences should be feel good, and I’ve not had one in recent memory that wasn’t, but hearing J. Spaceman and co. (which included the incredibly enthusiastic drumming of Oneida’s Kid Millions) play a cycle of songs that included “Shine A Light,” Rated X,” and “Let It Flow” kind of compounded all of my bullshit into one burst of physical joy. Not only that, but these were songs that weren’t played the last time I saw Spiritualized about a year ago at the same place, and thank god for that. Even my fan boy-ness isn’t impervious to a recreation tour, and this set was nothing like the last one I saw. I mentioned Kid Millions above, but it looked as if Mr. Spaceman had kicked everyone out of last year’s band except the guitar player Doggen, (who looks to be a close friend).

Last year’s arrangement had everyone spaced out into a semi-circle, with one half wearing all-black, the other white, the presentation a part of a post-album tour process. This arrangement had everyone jammed together as close as possible, and felt like a new group of musicians presenting fresh interactions. The free-jazz blowouts were frequent and varied. The guitars of J. Spaceman have straps, which he doesn’t use because he sits down, and my favorite signifier of sound assault came when he leaned back and held his guitar towards his amp, strumming the neck while everyone else took it as a sign to go all, “Pound! Pound! Pound! Errereerrrrr! Thud! Thud! Thud!” It drowned out the Wayne Coyne BFF-groupie lady and her annoying penchant to snap about a thousand iPhone photos right next to my head, an act which more or less spoiled my closed eyes enjoyment of the quiet-yet-sporadic breakdown of “Rated X.” Why do people do that? Can’t you talk about the years you used to be cool at home? Once again, vindictive sounding, but my garden-variety hipster ass dressed up for this shit; favorite button-up shirt, clean brown blazer; I take my selfie-dates seriously.

Did I mention that Kid Millions is a fucking boss? I once saw him play drums/hold together a Plastic Crimewave Sound Guitarkestra, which was about 30 or so guitar players jammed into New York City’s Cake Shop all playing “E” (or “in E,” or “maybe E,” or “E-ish”) for half an hour. That guy has energy; something of which I was afraid would overshadow the group. But it enunciated parts, especially the freak-outs. I didn’t imagine ever seeing this guy play with Spiritualized, but now it makes sense. He’s been playing with Yo La Tengo recently, as well as a number of other groups. Flat out, he’s a good musician who melds well with others.

Some songs were rearranged to the point of being almost unidentifiable. They ended the pre-encore set with “Take Your Time,” which is more or less a segway song on Lazer Guided Melodies, but as they did it, a great finale. Better than the single song, semi-reluctant encore of “Walking With Jesus.” Last year’s set ended with an exhaustive 40-minute “Cop Shoot Cop,” an experienced I was enthralled by but happy to leave in its time and place. The end of this show didn’t have that same amount of gravitas due to such, but it seems that J. Spaceman isn’t the kind of performer who looks to redo on past successes. Enough of an indication would be that they started on a new song rather than “Hey Jane” or some other album opener. In total I think I counted three new songs (memory’s a little fuzzy, and the internet tells me so).

I wish I could end this with some sort of great summarizing line, or clever coda, or other writing device that wraps up some logical conclusion, but I have none. Memories don’t work in that way; I don’t have a succinct way to encapsulate my thoughts with endpoints. I’ll still be thinking about this show, thinking about listening to music in the dark, thinking about poor attempts to turn off my collective frustration, whatever related comes around. We all want to think of ourselves as better than the adversary (in my case, the people I found myself so annoyed with), but now I realize how much I missed by vexing over the problem so much.

Poliça
Shepherd's Bush Empire; London, England

[03-22-2013]

“I’m feeling a little out of sorts,” Channy Leaneagh muttered after “Fist Teeth Money,” the bass humming in the air after a delightful rendition. I couldn’t help but feel deflated after hearing the lead vocalist divulge feelings of disappointment about her performance that night. In the wuthering throes of spectacle, Leaneagh appeared assertive, sparkling, and aligned with the rest of the band, but after each combined rush of percussion at the end of a song, she would apologize for how nervous she felt. The Empire was packed to the rafters, a sold-out show for an act with just one album to their name, but who come with substantial celebrity props.

I followed C-Monster’s lead and took my young lady to the gig, or rather, she took me. I wasn’t too geared up about seeing Poliça live because of how their debut, Give You The Ghost, comes across; it’s eerie, illustrious, and beautiful pop that’s so personal it sounds purpose-built for small venues and private playback. Perhaps that’s an unfair judgement call, perhaps not; “There are so many of you,” Leaneagh said somewhere between one auto-tuned frenzy and another. The band played for just more than an hour, which was enough time to hammer every track on their album along with a couple of new songs, much to my gal’s delight. There were screams, whistles, and rapturous applause, but very little movement from the crowd, which was transfixed on the singer as she pranced awkwardly amongst the bass player and two drummers. She seemed fragile, but constantly trying to overcome her anxiety by belting most of the material in a different key to the record, which sounded bold and spirited on tracks like “Darkstar” and “I See My Mother,” but fell considerably flat on the much-anticipated “Lay Your Cards Out”.

We had seats on the first upper level, which gave us a near perfect view — the Empire is an impressive venue, large enough to hold 2,000 people while retaining a degree of intimacy. Only on this occasion, the most intimate moments were shared by Leaneagh and the band, as opposed to the performers and their audience; the singer was so unsettled she darted off stage after the encore without so much as a “Goodnight, London!” They played a new track to finish, which proceeded a gorgeous a capella version of “When I Was A Young Girl”. Those two songs remain our personal highlights of the evening, and a glimmer of promise that Poliça’s new material is going to live up to the growing reputation they have hurriedly crafted — I just hope Leaneagh is ready for it.

[Photos: Carolina Faruolo]

Bad Credit No Credit / Blood Not Paint
The Bowery Electric; New York, NY

[04-11-2013]

Of the innumerable “up-and-coming,” “rising,” “crossover-potential,” “omg like soOoOOo cool” bands that inhabit Brooklyn, many of them fall into one of two categories: those who work hard to attain a tightly controlled and hip aesthetic (though their success-rate varies widely) and those who rebel against this by being as bland and apathetic as possible (see: most bands involving four straight white dudes playing “garage rock”). Bonus points for those who manage to do both!

Blood Not Paint, who opened at Bowery Electric last Thursday, are a decent example of a band that tries a bit too hard to do something I can’t quite figure out. Although they were killing it on the matching black tights and creepy face paint front, their music wasn’t as interesting as their outfits suggested, which was stuck somewhere between power pop and post-hair metal. Although their sound was tight, the whole thing was a bit too much of a put on for me. It was more enjoyable to watch them on the screens by the bar than actually standing in front of them.

But it was cool; I was there to see Bad Credit No Credit, a band with more brass instruments than a high school marching band, a charmingly manic lead singer, and zero pretense. Lead singer Carrie-Ann alternates between playing jazzy, Baltic-influenced horn hooks on sax (where she’s joined by a trumpet, another sax, and two trombones) and singing in a voice that can jump from sultry to screaming in a matter of seconds. She is a total Performer, and her facial expressions convey as much about her dedication to drama as her tendency to unexpectedly launch herself into the crowd and play her sax from the floor. Their set was ecstatic and the crowd responded in kind, doing the Charleston, skanking, and spastically dancing in ways that most New York concert attendees would rather not be seen participating. They are always a great time, and the new material from their 2012 album, The Whole Buffalo, didn’t disappoint. (It should also be mentioned that their lead singer’s side project Clapperclaw is incredibly worth checking out — creepy looped jazz vocals with backing electronics and, or course, more horns that evoke a dream sequence from a Lynch film.)

Guardian Alien sadly cancelled, but it was a night well spent anyway, or at least I seemed to think so, as my night spiraled into raved-out oblivion at a strange Puerto Rican club where the only reasonably priced drinks were electric blue and came in fishbowls. I’m sure the members of BCNC went home and hung out with their cats or practiced the clarinet. They seem like they’ve got their shit together.

[Photo: Emily Wheeler]

Oneohtrix Point Never
The Institute of Contemporary Art; Boston, MA

[03-29-2013]

I visit Boston, my old home, a lot. I have friends there still in college; my old school is there; and my favorite bar is there. Needless to say, there are a lot of memories in that city. But I also feel a personal sense of decay every time I visit, and I never felt it more than this weekend when I saw Oneohtrix Point Never — one of the best shows I’ve ever seen (but more on that later). When I walked into my old bar — my former go-to spot to take dates, all exes now — to get a drink, the usual bartender (Michael) was still there and instantly recognized me, but for most of the new staff, I was a stranger where I used to be a regular. It was also my first time in town since The Boston Phoenix stopped publishing, which is where I got my first job working at a print publication (I was spending my time last week screen-capping my writing on their website before they all turn into a big 404 error), and later, at an after party from a memorial for a friend who had passed away last year, I bumped into someone I had worked with in college. He was embarrassed because he couldn’t remember my name, which I said was nothing to feel bad about: I couldn’t remember his either.

Not to say any of these feelings are unique; in fact, they are extremely mundane. But while none of it was at the forefront of my mind when I went to see Oneohtrix Point Never at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, that changed when Daniel Lopatin, a master at playing with decaying memory, started performing. Anyone who has listened to Replica knows he has a way of injecting these thoughts into your mind, subconsciously or not. The performance, titled Reliquary House, with visuals by Nate Boyce, has been done before at MoMA, but we were given a huge shock right beforehand: The program director made his announcements and then casually ended with, “I just talked to Dan, and he said he has mostly new material tonight.” Before that massive news could even really be processed by any of us, Lopatin and Boyce came out and started.

A reliquary is a sort of shrine that houses ancient relics, and in this case, these relics are commercials: bruised, beaten, broken, and warped in all their beauty. And, with the all-new material (a new album is coming soon, but no details have yet been revealed), Oneohtrix Point Never has progressed the style of Replica beyond anything I could have imagined. The music is a massive collage of memories that are at times stunningly beautiful, sad, dissonant, and spiritual, all of it paired perfectly with Nate Boyce’s hyperreal digital sculptures projected above them. The pairing is very appropriate due to the way OPN’s new songs sound so three-dimensional, ebbing and flowing from overwhelmingly dense to airy and smooth. This time around, he gives the samples more room to breathe, with moments of tremendously heavy beats that just explode out of the mix. Ghostly samples of choirs haunt tracks, and to see him trigger samples in his intense way is genuinely exciting to watch.

One of the major questions I had before going to the show may be a little inevitable. Daniel Lopatin is perhaps the most influential person on the vaporwave scene (it has evolved tremendously, but Chuck Person’s eccojams still remain a blueprint), and I was hoping to see if there was a reaction or a response to it in his new music. And there is. It’s difficult to describe how, and it might just be me hearing him live again with the reappropriative musical context of 2012 in mind, but artists like New Dreams Ltd. (Macintosh Plus) and James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual felt like reference points in the new music but absent when he finished the set with “Nassau” and (an awesomely dissonant version of) “Child Soldier.” The perfect moment for me, though, came roughly 30 minutes in: after triggering a choral sample over a sea of throbbing percussion, Lopatin actually sat on the floor, back against his table of electronics (and the audience), and looked up at the projector, watching, just his head in view. For just a moment, he was soaking everything in, just as we were.

The first time I saw Oneohtrix Point Never play was about two months before Replica was released. I spoke to him after the show and told him I’d been listening to my promo of the album, and I honestly thought it was the best album of the year. Three months and one perfect score later, TMT named it just that. It’s still early, and we can’t know for sure what the new album will really be like, but after leaving the show with a new perspective on contemporary electronic music, on this city, and maybe a little on myself too, I know one thing for sure: Something is coming from Oneohtrix Point Never, and it is going to be huge.

Devendra Banhart / Swans
Music Hall of Williamsburg; Brooklyn, NY

[02-07-2013]

My girl and I enter to a quaint Devendra Banhart squeaking out Spanish licks and gently plucking strings for a shoulder-to-shoulder, swaying crowd half-repeating the song. He stops, casually speaks his mind to the crowd following meaning to the song just sung, which I hate, but whatever, and provides basis for the next that has seamlessly started playing. With charm and politeness, he croons through seven or eight more songs. Just he and his guitar. I typically have no patience for this kinda stuff, but he convinced me through heckling humor or nostalgia. Maybe it was nostalgia. And he’s funny, and he cuts, and he thanks Swans deeply, and we wait for 45 minutes, as it takes him five to exit the stage and 40 for Swans to dawn it.

Once the Swans flood onto the stage, their introduction is exactly the wall of sound you expect, and my girl is standing 3 feet back with a smile. And as it builds through drums, slide guitar, staggering bass, harsh guitar notes, random persecution, bow-noise, and cries/chants, I realize the whole stage is openly microphone’d. I found this out during the hushed moments as Michael Gira softly (yet through the speakers clearly) directs and perfects the sound emulsion. And this is how the entire two-and-a-half hours proceed: an entirely pleasure-driven live set centering his idea of what Brooklyn sounded like via Swans. Oh, shit that’s terribly bland. I’m saying the carefully crafted egotistical measure that Gira brings to noise and sounds and Swans, including the irresistibly flagrant takeover of marketability in the Brooklyn area (see: Girls), provided a crushing experience both for the drabness of passerbyers in the area, and those forced to this location by Swans fan-dom. The blend was a beautiful awakening for the all-encompassing, endearingly prophetic in might and will and visual thought.