Monthly Archives: July 2010

All I know is that you’re perfect right now.

Coney Island’s great for a lot of reasons. It hosts the world famous Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, for example, the site of Takeru Kobayashi’s doubling of the original event record in 2001 and his ignominious fall to Joey Chestnutt is 2007 which ultimately led to his non-participation and bizarre Free Kobi campaign on this year’s July 4th event.

There’s other stuff, too. Candy apples. The “subway crowd”, according to a New Yorker who recommended keeping away. And once a year, for free, the Siren festival, put on by the Village Voice. To give a general idea of how great Siren is historically, here’s some examples of bands who’ve played since 2001.

2001: Guided By Voices, Quasi, Superchunk
2002: Sleater-Kinney, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars
2003: !!!, Modest Mouse, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
2004: The Fiery Furnaces, Blonde Redhead, Mission of Burma
2005: Q and Not U, Spoon, Saul Williams
2006: Tapes ‘n’ Tapes, Scissor Sisters, Art Brut
2007: MIA, Dr. Dog, Black Lips
2008: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Islands, Times New Viking, Broken Social Scene, Beach House, Jaguar Love, Annuals (FOR FREE! Fuck sake.)
2009: Built To Spill, Micachu and the Shapes, Future of the Left.

This year was the tenth anniversary and it was pretty great too.

The first band I got to, having had to rouse a household full of hungover delinquents with nothing but bare willpower and a promise that they’d probably like some of the bands, was Surfer Blood.

Surfer Blood are a band I like an awful lot, but live sound got the better of them, and with unwieldily booming subwoofers hiding the guitar melodies and killing the groove, they were only okay, and probably would have been worse than okay for someone without the melodies burnt into their head already.

Ponytail, or the second half of Ponytail’s set, was next. Ponytail are a preposterous and excellent band, and having never seen them live despite being in Dublin at the time of their visit, I was excited to see what they were going to be like.

They were sparser than I expected, and more punk. Whilst on record it comes off as slightly more composed, in a live setting the irrepressible Molly Siegel seems to be pretty much exclusively a really excitable cheerleader for the band’s naive, complex music. It works pretty well, and a moshpit forms. Molly says things like “golly”. Cos she’s Molly.

Show of the day came from the Pains of Being Pure At Heart, up next. I know they’re divisive, but as the all-knowing life judge and stone-tablet opinion hander-downer, that’s ridiculous. They’re great. Their debut album could not be more full of great indie pop songs, and all it takes is not screwing it up to transform that into a live show.

They didn’t screw it up. They played the hits, and plenty of new songs, and seemed genuinely delighted to be playing Siren. Their enthusiasm was contagious, really, and even if a Pains crowd is never going to do more than dance lightly, it was an enjoyable light dance. Highlight, for me, was Come Saturday, but then that’s always been my favourite song of theirs.

The God of Musicians More Respected Than Good will have to forgive me for this one: instead of going to Ted Leo, I brown-bagged it for a while in the carnival, watching an Italian ice-maker make Italian ices grumpily and generally surveying the point at which the hipster Siren crowd meshed with the “subway crowd” (I’m presuming they don’t have subways in Williamsburg. Right? Am I completely right on that point?)

So this sets up Holy Fuck, with the sun going down and the risk of living a week the colour of a cherry slushie just for the sake of seeing a few indie rock bands waning. Safe hands.

If you’ve never seen or encountered Holy Fuck before, you’re missing out. Listening to them on record is something, but not enough. Much like HEALTH but a bit more amenable to normal people (rather than ridiculous people) dancing, they fashion their conceivably programmable beats from real instruments, some conventional, some silly. The drummer is the driving force, taking whole songs up and down with him as he sees fit. Then there’s a bassist and two sets of keyboard/sample self-facilitating media nodes, one of which features a 20 euro Casio keyboard I still have a home, the default beat from which actually forms the basis for a Holy Fuck song.

On Coney Island at dusk beside the beach and boardwalk surrounded by people looking happy, a rollercoaster and a carnival in the summer, pretty much everything was great, but Lovely Allen, with its swells and forget-your-troubles-esque euphoric moments, was always going to be the high point of the day.

As they finished, I got another beer (in another brown bag) and headed towards the beach, passing a man in a Fermanagh GAA jersey who turned out to be from Queens and was found immediately out of his depth after he walked foolishly into the trap of asking my GAA fundamentalist (and Nordy) companion if he’d watched the World Cup.

He hadn’t. We continued on our path to night beach drinking.

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Who knows what she’s going to say?

So here’s the scene. I’m at South Street Seaport, where I have been every Friday for the last four Fridays. So Cow ends. A choice presents itself. Stay for Golden Triangle and Thee Oh Sees, or take a risk on being allowed over to Governor’s Island for an evening of fake beaching, electric palm trees and mathematical adept/facemelting tune chef Caribou.

I chose Caribou. It was surprisingly easy, sorry to make it sound dramatic. The queue for the ferry took about ten minutes even though my friends who had gone earlier waited a solid two hours. This is evidence that God loves So Cow (but not Ireland).

Quick breeze through the opening acts. Chain Gang of 1974: terrible. 1/10. Super-calculated rock ‘n’ roll post-Rapture stuff with the most annoying, obtrusive frontman of all time. At one he shouted (presumably) “You two are fucking awesome” at two members of the crowd. Not beyond the realms of possibility that he actually did say what I initially thought, though, and he just wanted to declare his love for U2 mid-set. Anyway, fuck Chain Gang of 1974.

Phantogram were less offensive but their oblique, abstract electronic rock didn’t exactly induce the right type of mood for the occasion. Guess who did.

This bad picture brought to you by low lighting and "Iso Mode".

So Dan Snaith emerges. You might remember him from his 2005 doctoral thesis on Overconvergent Siegel Modular Symbols, completed at Imperial College London. More likely you know him as Caribou, former progressive intricate guitar-led psychtronica artist and current Four Tet-esque club speaker-murderer.

They play as a four-piece with two drum-kits set up at the front of the stage, putting the sensational drummer at the centre of attention and highlighting the bits where Snaith has finished his vocal part, rolled up his sleeves and sat down to play equally complex drums himself. There are triggered sequencer tracks, definitely, but still, they’re an impressive proposition for a band that makes mostly electronic music.

Things kick off relatively slowly, but by the time Melody Day hits about three songs in, the crowd’s reaching its peak in size and energy. Andorra songs are met with some of the most enthusiastic shuffles I’ve seen en masse.

But it’s the Swim songs, when they drop (and they do drop, on festival sized bass-bins), that own the plastic beach. Odessa comes halfway through the set, creates a bleary reverie in its wake and send a lot of the attendees towards the ferry happy, being eager to get back to whatever investment banking they have to do in Manhattan but not without getting their time’s worth.

Those who stayed got flawless, driving, intricate electronic music from on high. The end of the regular set comes, Snaith thanks the crowd in a totally unassuming I-have-a-PhD-in-Overconvergent-Siegel-Modular-Symbols type of way, taps on some heavy delay and says “Sun!”

It is what it says it is, undeniably one of the tracks of the year, and enough to inspire a space-caked (but no worse) companion into claiming unselfawarely that he was genuinely experiencing euphoria.

The encore was a ten minute psychedelic instrumental showpiece full of builds, drops, washes and turns, taunting the ferry-hurriers with ever twist. A seriously impressive set of musicians, as I said, with proper bombs up their sleeve.

Hard to think of a more perfect gig, even if I’m clearly not expressing it that well.

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So Cow compendium

Falling behind. So far behind. Still to come before the blog is back up to date: Caribou on Governor’s Island, Siren Festival (featuring the Pains, Holy Fuck, Surfy Bloods, Ponytail and some anecdotes), The Antlers in Hudson River Park (not a real park) and Best Coast at the Seaport, plus a comprehensive ranking of the colas available in New York City, and a link to a new mixtape for Quarterinch Collective.

This post, however, is technically a So Cow review from their show at South Street Seaport. I think if I reviewed So Cow any more than I’ve already reviewed So Cow, the universe’s fuse would blow, so I’ll just leave some information here for those American Googlists and link-followers who’ve been showing up every now and then trying to find out more about Ireland’s greatest living distortion pedal solo-doer/mild humourist.

Free Music
So Cow has the following albums: Meaningless Friendly (2010), So Cow LP (US compilation, 2009), I’m Siding With My Captors (2008), These Truly Are End Times (2007). But on top of this he has some free stuff. Here it is.

So Cow – Tuam The Album
So Cow – Second Covers EP
So Cow – First Covers EP
A mixture of stuff from WFMU’s Free Music Archive

Album Reviews
These Truly Are End Times (22nd best of 2007)
I’m Siding With My Captors (7th best of 2008)
Wackity Schmackity Doo (best homemade stapled-together CD-R of 2008, guest-reviewed by Bobby)

Misc. stuff
Interview with Brian So Cow
Mini-documentary/performance video type thing by Analogue
The time it was exciting that Pitchfork reviewed the compilation LP
The time Korea got excited about So Cow’s song about Moon Geun Young.
For live reviews, follow the tags.

Got the spirit, but lose the feeling.

Falling behind here, but between the shoddy service of Time Warner Cable (NAMED AND SHAMED) and a cycle of daily recreation spiralling quickly into Dali-esque ridiculousness, I can’t really help that.

This gig, though, is the first one I’ve been to at the Williamsburg Waterfront. The Waterfront gigs seem to be Important to the People of Williamsburg in some discernable but slightly nebulous way. I gather that they were under threat from something, possibly the recession, but that they were saved. More on that later.

The line-up is amazing. Deerhoof & Xiu Xiu combined, performing Unknown Pleasures in its entirety. Why? I don’t know why. But wait, the last support was also called Why? You might know and love Why? already, but if you don’t, maybe reading me yammer incorrigibly about their live shows and their album will help. Also on the bill were Pictureplane and Fang Island.

I showed up early enough to catch the start of the show, but Pictureplane were horrifyingly bad the last time I saw them, so I got a slice of pizza and watched some of the World Cup final, which was on that day. I got into one of my favourite types of conversation with the other pizza eaters – the kind where Americans don’t know what they’re talking about regarding football and I friendlily inform them of the actual state of affairs. Examples of some claims: “that was definitely offsides” accompanied by an attempt to explain the offside rule incorrectly, when what had actually happened was a foul, and the pizza man claiming that Brazil were playing when, in fact, they were not playing.

I got to the place and sat around for a bit while Fang Island emo’d out on stage. Guess what you can’t buy at Williamsburg Waterfront? Coke. As in Coca Cola. Can’t be had. Your choices are Brooklyn Lager, water or Vitamin Water. Which is ridiculous. I got a crab juice.

Here’s where it starts getting good though.

Organ fades up with Yoni still not on the stage. He strolls out in a retro shirt and a pair of Kappa shorts with hair so short at the sides it’s essentially a mohawk, and does the Fall of Mr. Fifths, potentially my favourite ever Why? song. It’s a good start.

The rest of the set flies by. He does some Eskimo Snow stuff, and the crowd reaction is noticeably more muted, but for the most part he sticks to the Alopecia hits – no Crushed Bones or Rubber Traits, but plenty of other great songs and of course the opportunity to actually look at a man while he tells you about getting stuck into his therapist or failing to mate or taking loads of cocaine or having syphilis or weaving anger into a gadzai to bring to an alma mater’s holiday fundraiser boutique thing.

He also did the Do The Right Thing dance. Which was a highlight.

There are more highlights. The organiser/outdoor MC/shouter of the word Brooklyn emerges after Why? and thanks the corporate sponsors or whoever else needs to be thanked. Then he says this:

“People always ask me why the Senior State Senator of New York State cares so much about keeping these events at the Waterfront. You know what I tell them? It’s because the Senior State Senator of New York State is FUCKING AWESOME!”

Uh oh… they’re not going to…

And there he is, the Senior State Senator of New York State, a cleanly, white-haired Jewish-looking man in his 70s, standing on the stage about to give a speech. Bad taste in the mouth already. But wait, a challenger appears. A long-haired guy of about 25, two rows from the front:

“FREE PALESTIIIIIIIIIIINE! FREE PALESTIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE! WHY ARE YOU STRANGLING A PEOPLE? FREE GAZA!”

The Senator tries to speak.
“FREE PALESTINE!”

Senator’s confused. But he’s a Senator, and the two ways to become an elected representative are being smart and knowing how to manipulate large amounts of people. So he pulls it back.

“LET’S JUST HAVE FUN!”

Crowd cheers. Guess what he shouts next. Guess.

“THIS IS BROOKLYN AT ITS BEST!”

Yeah, he shouted Brooklyn. It always works.

“THIS IS NEW YORK AT ITS BEST!”

It is pretty good actually. Free gig, great bands, Waterfront.

“LET’S FORGET ABOUT POLITICS!”

Um… if you insist, elected political representative who is clearly on the stage to remind people that he is their buddy and they should vote for him…

“ENJOY THE SHOW!”

He exits. Bizarre, bizarre stuff. Point 1: get off the stage, state senator. This is a rock show. It doesn’t even fit. Point 2: even if you want Palestine freed, maybe shout it twice or hold up a flag and refuse to cheer even when the senator shouts the word Brooklyn, but it gets a little awkward if you’re shouting over him. Luckily, Greg Saunier shows up and starts setting up his drums.

So, Deerhoof and Xiu Xiu combining their significant forces to cover Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division. We know they’re friends. Greg Saunier, Deerhoof’s drummer and primary compositional genius, produced The Air Force by Xiu Xiu, and they’re both based in San Francisco. But putting them together was the best drunken idea anyone ever had. Line-up as follows:

Greg Saunier (Deerhoof) – drums
Satomi Matsuzaki (Deerhoof) – noise guitar (normally bassist/vocalist)
Ed Rodriguez (Deerhoof) – bass (normally guitarist)
John Dieterich (Deerhoof) – lead guitar
Angela Seo (Xiu Xiu) – synth, breaking glass (seriously)
Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu) – vocals

I’m sure it’s consensus knowledge that Greg Saunier is one of the best drummers around, and John Dieterich is one of the best guitarists around. And Jamie Stewart, even if camp whispering is not your bag for some reason (it should be), is a huge personality. So hopes were high.

They play the album straight through and don’t address the crowd. It’s meaty as fuck, heavier than Joy Division probably ever played it and as dark as they did too. Mosh pits form at various points, with the biggest one happening, predictably, during She’s Lost Control. Shadowplay is a facemelter. While the tempo keeps up, the crowd stay with it, and though attentions wander a little when the closer starts its dirge-like trudge, the sight of Angela Seo throwing three wine glasses at a time into a barrel and then crushing them with a large metal stick keeps me from being distracted at any rate.

It ends and I leave to try make the Roots and Talib Kweli at Prospect Park for some real Brooklyn-shouting, safe in the knowledge that I’ve seen something I would never see if I’d stayed home to work in the bookshop.

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Even when you’re too old, and you think you know more.

The last time we hit up the Seaport, blog, you might remember that we were blown away by the Apples In Stereo’s parting shot, with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and Philharmonic and more firework ordnance than Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

It’s every week though, at the southeastern corner of Manhattan, and given that we already knew the way on the subway (or you remembered if I didn’t, blog), it seemed to make sense to once more break away from friends and go check out Bear In Heaven

Arriving during one of Zola Jesus’ first songs, the cross-section of the crowd was a little older and significantly more tattooed than the Apples show, with fewer families. That’s because there was no youth choir singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Just Zola Jesus. Think a funereal gothwave version of Lady Gaga, wearing sunglasses in the non-sun and wailing hard, pretentiously.

As a person rendered curious by a couple of Zola Jesus records, it’s disappointing to be confronted with how much of a shtick it actually is. And if there’s one way to find that out it’s to see it on a big stage in front of a crowd who are more neutral than home or away.

But then Bear In Heaven arrived. I got into their album really late in 2009 after asking the ever-reliable Twitter what I’d missed, but as usual, it took seeing them live to really get a grasp on what they’re doing. As a three-piece, they’re centred around the weird-voiced singer and the arpeggiated, alt-80s synth parts he either triggers or plays. To his left is a bassist, taking krautrock cues some of the time and laying down totally motoric, rhythmic bass parts a lot of the time. This lets the drummer, who is amazing, go a bit crazy and hit a different drum every half-beat of the bar, because the bass is holding the rhythm down. Either way, it’s stomping.

At their best, such as on the destructively brilliant anthem Lovesick Teenagers, the wooden pier shook (or at least the music made it shake imaginatively). With real self-confidence on a stage that could (and may still) wreck lesser performers, they played a stormer. “We’re Bear In Heaven and we’re from Brooklyn”. Still the best fun when it’s you that Brooklyn refers to. And how could you not shout?

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Te quiero quiero quiero quiero…

Being a diplomatic traveller, I feel it incumbent upon me to network with the alternative musics of all the various cultures which intermingle in New York. Thus, with a briefcase and a set of broadly drawn proverbs with which to perform cultural exchange, I showed up at the Latin Alternative Music Conference’s outdoor showcase at Summerstage in Central Park.

Still on Irish gig time and not looking likely to develop better instincts in the near future, I missed the French-Chilean hip-hop duo who opened the gig. But I managed to show up before the thing I was really there to see (all that diplomacy stuff was just a front, don’t tell anyone) – El Guincho.

As he was setting up, an MC of the cookie-cutter type that end up shouting at the crowd at all of these free outdoor gigs came out with a microphone. If the gig was in Brooklyn, I wouldn’t even take bets on the likelihood of him saying the word Brooklyn within ten words. But it wasn’t, it was Central Park in Manhattan, so there was some suspense.

“Latinos!”

Cheers.

“something something futból!”

Cheers.

“Viva Espana!”

Cheers.

“Something elaborate in Spanish.”

Cheers.

From his position at the centre of stage plugging in his samplers, El Guincho leans in to his microphone.

“Catalunya!”

Ambivalent response. El Guincho, more political than Carles Puyol.

But so the point is that everyone was either new world Latino or actually Spanish. Right now before El Guincho this doesn’t make much of a difference, but it will later.

El Guincho plays. He has a guitarist and a bassist with him, both of whom make his songs different but not necessarily better, and his singing voice is pretty rough. The crowd, delighted about a recent Spanish victory and generally just up for a dance, try to lock into the grooves, but don’t manage it fully. It’s bright, Guincho’s not sounding great, and the energy of it alone isn’t enough to carry it. Even the genuine Alegranza hits like Palmitos Park fall a little flat. A disappointing gig.

But while El Guincho is the guy I was there to see, and the guy I dragged my friends there to see, he wasn’t the main event or even the main curiosity.

After some more MCing, someone rolls a four-part computer console along the lines of the Hal 3000 onto the stage. It’s flashing in various places. But wait, what is that being carried out? A tuba, maybe? No, it’s a sousaphone, apparently. But the type of horn you have to wear to play, anyway.

“Ola Mexicanos!”

Cheers.
“Spanish Spanish Spanish Spanish Spanish”

Cheers.

“NORTEC COLLECTIVE!”

What followed was one of the most bizarre hours of my life. With two men playing tenorions in front of the computer console (which was just a prop, it turned out), and two men playing accordion and sousaphone/trumpet respectively, Nortec Collective played a reality-challenging Mexican folk vs. electronica mashup type set. Everything built up and then ended up in a break beat with the sousaphone going bomp-bomp underneath it Mexican-style.

It was ridiculous. But the crowd loved it. Dancing in ways that I didn’t know were ways of dancing. All of a sudden I’m feeling very anglo and wondering what to do with myself. I stand through the reverie, looking at the Tijuana-based visuals and trying to square the esoteric techno bits with the Cinco de Mayo parade bits. Hard to tell if you’re enjoying something like that or just rapt withal.

But no, it was terrible. Not necessarily a regret, showing up, but if I never heard Nortec again in my entire life, I wouldn’t be unhappy. A rare minus.

NY3: See no future, pay no rent

July has brought the New York experiment to its Ridiculous Money-Making Schemes phase as all avenues of credit have dried up and employment remains either difficult to come by or disagreeably obstructive to fun.

So, with acoustic guitar strings totally deadened by uninhabitable levels of humidity and a friend with a saxophone, I set to working learning Beatles songs in weird transposed keys (something to do with the sax’s range) and prepared to try to dupe tourists out of dollars at Strawberry Fields in Central Park.

We didn’t get good, but we got functional after about a week of half-practice, and we set off yesterday to a different part of Central Park for a sort of dry run. It didn’t go well.

Firstly, it was 38 degrees. Stone benches were too hot to sit on. Sweat was an actual issue.

We did get started though. But shit, the low range on the saxophone’s not working. What’s the problem? Humidity? Reed’s in wrong? Took us two songs to figure out that it was because the cleaner was still in it when he started to play. Bad start.

We run to our go-to songs, Norwegian Wood and Yesterday. They go okay. No money yet, but some casual onlookers and stuff. It’s too hot to be in any way expressive, so we’re just trudging through the songs. Then a 40-something man approaches.

“Hey guys, you can go in there into the shade now, I’m finishing up.”

“Oh, thanks.”

Nice guy.

Or wait, no.

“800 fucking acres and you fucking cunts sit right on top of me? You little pieces of shit. This is all I’ve got left.”

He shows us a long scar on his arm.

“I can’t go running to fucking mommy and daddy when shit gets tough. Fuck you. Oh, you didn’t know? You fucking walked right past me, you fucking assholes. Fuck you.”

He turns to leave. We’re bewildered. We laugh nervously, which he obviously interprets as us laughing at him.

“Oh it’s funny now? You’re gonna be laughing through your fucking teeth. Pieces of shit.”

We gave up and went home.