Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TV On The Radio, Broken Social Scene; Williamsburg Waterfront, September 8th 2011

Canadian band Broken Social Scene joined Brooklyn-based rockers TV on the Radio for an excellent night of music at the always-beautiful East River State Park in Williamsburg. A light misting of rain did not deter the sold-out crowd in the least, and spirits were high for the smart double-bill, a home court show for TV on the Radio and one of the last shows (for the moment, at least) for Broken Social Scene in New York City.

Broken Social Scene is known for bringing out a small army for their live shows, and last night was no exception. At various points during their set, I counted three guitarists, a bass that made its way around the band, two auxiliary percussionists, a few synths that were also touched by many hands, and something like five horn players: three big saxes, a trombone, and a trumpet. Oh, and one of the guitarists picked up a cornet, more than once. Versatility was a theme of the evening for sure.

It's no joke, hopping around on instruments like that. There is a reason that more bands don't do it at their shows, and that reason is that it's HARD. Bad things can happen on stage when too many people are moving around. As a longtime fan of the band but first time audience member, I was pleased to see that this relative difficulty did not deter them from being the aggressive multi-instrumentalists that they are at heart. Sometimes, playing one instrument the whole show just gets boring.

The band played a very good set to a receptive crowd. They were "opening" but you couldn't tell from their stage demeanor or their sound. They were fully invested in the show and it was clear that the crowd appreciated it. The setlist consisted of a nice selection from their broad catalog, including a Modest Mouse cover and even a brand new song. The horn section was tight and the arrangements were tasteful and effective. Even thought the group, in various forms, has been doing it for years, it felt new and unpredictable.

The same could be said for TV on the Radio. Their set was extremely high energy, and sonically thrilling. Though they refrained from too much instrument hopping, they were stellar nonetheless. The band has certainly evolved over the years in their recorded output, and though the setlist mostly contained cuts from "Dear Science" and "Nine Types of Light," it was clear that they were interested in showcasing their stylistic diversity. They did include "Staring at the Sun," a song from 2003 that was nice to hear live.

The musicianship was as good as you'd expect it to be from a group of consummate professionals like TVOTR. Dave Sitek's guitar work was phenomenal, and Tunde Adebimpe's vocals were clear and bright. Kip Malone has a surprisingly effective falsetto range, and is always impressive on guitar. And as sad as it was that Gerard Smith was absent from the stage, the band dedicated a song (among other things) to the memory of their former bass player, and at no time did it seem that they lacked sincerity.

One of the high points of the entire show was the lighting, which was an excellent mixture of rhythmic design and colorful variety. It was good to see Williamsburg Waterfront utilize their excellent stage and lighting setup, and it really contributed to the the overall enjoyability of the show. Sadly, the sound did not quite live up to the visuals, and I was often left wondering why the bass and kick were drowning out much of the middle register of both acts. A shame, considering how much beautiful mid-range content both bands put in to their songs. It was disappointing, if only for the fact that I heard better sound design last week at the same venue.

Despite that minor setback, it was an excellent show, and it was especially nice to be part of an enthusiastic crowd that was with both bands for the duration of their sets. Fans definitely got their money's worth, and it seemed to me that everyone left pretty happy about the whole thing. It's a nice feeling, isn't it? Doesn't always work out that way. Let's hope for more shows like it in the future.

BSS photo credit - Norman Wong, TVotR - Nine Types Of Light cover art.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bright Eyes, Dr Dog & Real Estate played Brooklyn's Williamsburg Waterfront.

Bright Eyes - Conor Oberst
Williamsburg Waterfront at East River State Park, home to some of the summer's biggest ticketed and free live shows, logged another solidly successful evening of music in the books this past Wednesday with the eclectic combination of Bright Eyes, Dr. Dog, and Real Estate. At first, these three bands seemed like odd choices to fill a bill, as they all bring a different brand of sound and songwriting to the table, but as the evening progressed, it became evident that the bands' differences were indeed the strength of the evening.
This reviewer wants to avoid making generalizations of any kind about the fans of specific bands that bought tickets for this show. That being said, it seems unreasonable (in these thrifty times) to spend forty-plus dollars on a ticket to just see the headliner. Those music appreciators who only made an appearance for Bright Eyes missed out on two solid sets of music, one of which bordered on the brilliant and made the evening well worth the price of admission before Conor Oberst even had a chance to set foot on stage.
Real Estate - Martin Courtney
Real Estate - Alex Bleeker
Real Estate, New Jersey's indie surf-rock darlings, made the most of their opening slot, filling their short set with aural energy. The band was tight, and the (relatively) thin crowd that was planted in front of the stage showed their appreciation for the ensemble effort to make the songs pop. It can be hard for a band to bring significant amounts of energy for an daytime opening slot in the great outdoors, and while one could make the argument that the band appeared listless, this reviewer thinks that they should not be faulted for putting on a sonically pleasing set and leaving the theatrics for the bands on deck.

Dr Dog - Toby Leaman
Dr Dog - Scott Mc Micken
All of which brings us to Dr. Dog, and quite possibly one of the best sets of the summer season. The sun was still shining brightly when the band took the stage, but they immediately set an aggressive and highly energetic tone for their (unfortunately short) set of songs. They played a balanced and thoughtfully arranged selection of songs from "Shame, Shame" and "Fate," their two most recent full lengths, and they played these songs with gusto and precision. Downtime was kept to a minimum, and they managed to play an impressive number of songs in forty-five minutes, even squeezing in an encore of "Heart It Races," their version of the Architecture in Helsinki song that is always a pleasure to hear live. In short, they played the hits, and didn't really stray too far from them, but that simply did not matter. They were, for the entire set, a pure pleasure to watch. This reviewer hesitates to name another band that is capable of that kind of commendable artistry in an opening slot.

Bright Eyes - Conor Oberst
Bright Eyes capped off the evening with a set of songs that was marked by inconsistencies and left the audience pleased but wanting. The band started strong, with frontman Oberst delivering his idiosyncratic lyrics with his trademark vocal delivery. The rest of the band was quite entertaining as well, and they displayed a remarkable amount of versatility, given Mr. Oberst's tendency to write songs in any style that he wants. The other two core members of the band, lead guitarist Mike Mogis and pianist/trumpter Nate Walcott, were consistently impressive throughout the set, and the band was rounded out by excellent percussionists and a synth player.
They drove hard and hit some great numbers in the first half of the set, but things took a turn for the strange about halfway through, with Oberst calling out a song that the rest of the band didn't particularly want to play and was followed by the band and Oberst playing and singing the song rather poorly, drawing it out a few minutes too many. After that, the energy of the set seemed to wane, but things were picked up again as the band closed things out. The best moments of the set were when Oberst and the band played their uptempo, pop-oriented numbers, and when Oberst got to show off his considerable stage presence. Overall, a very enjoyable set. - DH

Photos by Greg Jacquin
Words by Dylan Hume

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing available September 13, 2011 on Sub Pop.

Here's a review of Blitzen Trapper's "American Goldwing" written by Dylan Hume. Band photo by Tyler Kohlhoff.
I want to put it all on the table. I really like Blitzen Trapper. I really like their albums, and I really like their live performances. So it shouldn't be surprising when I tell you that I really like their newest album, "American Goldwing." But I'm also supposed to be thinking critically about music, right? I mean, right. This is a review. So let me be clear: "American Goldwing" is not Blitzen Trapper's best album. Not even close. It may not even be top three.
Does that mean I don't like it? No. Certainly not. But for a band that has put out four records in five years on a big indie label, their musical evolution seems to be, and I want to be careful about how I use this word here, stagnating.
The album starts strong, and is spotty throughout. Some of the uptempo rockers give you that tingling feeling, like the one you got when you heard "Destroyer of the Void" for the first time. Some of the slower, folkier tunes are pleasantly reminiscent of "Furr." In fact, there wasn't really a moment on the record when I wasn't reminded of one of their old records, which, given how good their older records are, isn't really a condemnation of the band. But it does speak to some nebulous flaw, some missing creative enzyme. I wanted something a little bit (just a little bit) new.
Blitzen Trapper's seemingly effortless blend of several distinct tropes from country, rock and folk music suggest that the band is comprised of individuals who are careful listeners and dedicated fans of those artists who first recognized the potential that lay within blurring the lines of genre. I hate to say "You know who I'm talking about," but if you don't know who I'm talking about, you probably shouldn't be listening to Blitzen Trapper in the first place. It is great music if you like other, older great music.
Luckily for me, I love great music, and Blitzen Trapper makes great music. The album is full of great songwriting, period. Lyrically, it's as good as it's ever been, maybe even better than "Furr," which I regard as a high point of lyricism for the entirety of 2008, and not just for Blitzen Trapper.
The album is also full of great musicianship and production. Everything sounds crisp, the band sounds tight. The cuts sound live, more or less, with the exception of a few moments of studio indulgence by the band. These guys are purists. They wouldn't be making these kinds of records if they weren't, and I respect them for it.
But I can't forgive the album for its inconsistencies. These guys are really comfortable making this kind of music. And they've made a lot of it in recent years, and I can't ever see myself telling them to stop. I just happen to think artists should be more comfortable with doing something different. I know I'm probably in the minority here.  I'm going to go listen to the album again, all the while hoping that I'm wrong. - DH
American Goldwing Tracks:
Might Find It Cheap Fletcher Love the Way You Walk Away Your Crying Eyes My Home Town Girl In a Coat American Goldwing Astronaut Taking It Easy Too Long Street Fighting Sun Stranger In a Strange Land
Friday, September 9, 2011  Crystal Ballroom, Portland OR Music Fest North West
Monday, September 12, 2011  Music Millennium, Portland OR in-store @ 8PM!
Tuesday, September 13, 2011  Easy Street (Queen Anne), Seattle WA in-store 7PM!!
Friday, October 7, 2011  Mystic Theater, Petaluma CA w/ Dawes & Smoke Fairies
Saturday, October 8, 2011  Soho Restaurant & Music Club, Santa Barbara CA w/ Dawes & Smoke Fairies
Sunday, October 9, 2011  Belly Up, Solana Beach CA w/ Dawes & Smoke Fairies
Monday, October 10, 2011  Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix AZ w/ Dawes & Smoke Fairies
Tuesday, October 11, 2011  Sol Santa Fe, Santa Fe NM w/Smoke Fairies & Dawes
Thursday, October 13, 2011  Club Dada, Dallas TX w/ Dawes & Smoke Fairies
Friday, October 14, 2011  UTOPIAfest, Utopia TX
Saturday, October 15, 2011  Manship Theatre, Baton Rouge LA w/ Dawes & Smoke Fairies
Sunday, October 16, 2011  Bottle Tree, Birmingham AL w/ Smoke Fairies
Tuesday, October 18, 2011  Variety Playhouse, Atlanta GA w/ Dawes & Smoke Fairies
Wednesday, October 19, 2011  Mercy Lounge, Nashville TN w/ Dawes & Smoke Fairies
Thursday, October 20, 2011  Headliner's Music Hall, Louisville KY w/ Dawes & Smoke Fairies
Friday, October 21, 2011  Orange Peel, Asheville NC w/ Dawes & Smoke Fairies
Saturday, October 22, 2011  Cats Cradle, Carrboro NC w/ Dawes & Smoke Fairies
Monday, October 24, 2011  Black Cat, Washington DC w/ Smoke Fairies & Dawes
Wednesday, October 26, 2011  Webster Hall, New York City NY w/ Dawes & Smoke Fairies
Thursday, October 27, 2011  Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia PA w/ Dawes & Smoke Fairies
Friday, October 28, 2011  Royale (MA), Boston MA w/ Dawes & Belle Brigade
Saturday, October 29, 2011  Mohawk Place, Buffalo NY w/ The Belle Brigade All Ages!
Sunday, October 30, 2011  Opera House (ON), Toronto Ontario w/ Dawes & Belle Brigade
Tuesday, November 1, 2011  Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland OH w/ Dawes & Belle Brigade
Wednesday, November 2, 2011  Calvin College Fine Arts Center, Grand Rapids MI w/ Dawes & Belle Brigade
Thursday, November 3, 2011  Metro, Chicago IL w/ Dawes & Belle Brigade
Thursday, November 3, 2011  Reckless Records (Broadway), Chicago IL In-Store! @ 6PM
Friday, November 4, 2011  First Avenue, Minneapolis MN w/ Dawes
Saturday, November 5, 2011  Turner Hall, Milwaukee WI w/ Dawes & Belle Brigade
Monday, November 7, 2011  Fox Theater (CO), Boulder CO w/ Dawes & Belle Brigade
Thursday, November 10, 2011  Rickshaw Theater (BC), Vancouver Canada w/ Dawes & Belle Brigade
Friday, November 11, 2011  Neptune Theatre, Seattle WA w/ Dawes & Belle Brigade
Sunday, November 13, 2011  McDonald Theatre, Eugene OR w/ Dawes & Belle Brigade
Tuesday, November 15, 2011  Fillmore, The (SF), San Francisco CA w/ Dawes & Belle Brigade
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