Category Archives: American

Here in my chest where you burst, I keep the crush and the weight of the world.

Sometimes a place develops a relationship with a band that’s beyond just being ordinary attendees of their gigs and listening to their music. To our eternal national shame, we made careers for Josh Ritter and David Gray by becoming strangely attached to their music when no-one else was. It’s not like Future Islands are that much more popular here than anywhere else, but I think both Dublin and Samuel T. Herring are aware that it’s a little different when they come here.

I don’t know what it is. I wasn’t at any of the previous gigs, so I couldn’t really speculate. When the guy said “we’ve been looking forward to this for a long time” he seemed unusually sincere for someone bloating up the home crowd’s ego. I think he was telling the truth.

Anyway, before talking about Future Islands there’s a few other things to countenance. This was my first visit to the Workman’s Club. Seems a decent place. The wooden floor makes a sound when you stamp on it, which is usually a bad omen, but the sound was fine and the size and shape of the place, with no bar in the actual venue area itself, is good. Tentative thumbs up to the Workman’s Club. Not a workman, but if I was I’d be proud to be associated with it.

The next thing: Patrick Kelleher and His Cold Dead Hands. There’s minor meme status to the fact that they, along with Squarehead, play all the time, but I haven’t seen them in a long time. And they’re different now. Tighter, and any attempts to keep calling them ‘freak folk’ will fall flat. There’s a confidence to them, and their new, meatier stuff, obviously forking off from the last Ariel Pink album in certain cases, is excellent. Also, what we can probably confidently call the Album 2 iteration of the band, even though it’s the same, can’t help but benefit in some vague sense from the fact that most of them have some profile in their own right now – you’re watching Catscars, School Tour and Hunter-Gatherer formed like Voltron, not just the Cold Dead Hands.

One particular high point was the song where Robyn (Catscars) left the stage, watched from the floor, then came back up to do a falling piano version of some dubstep high-end over a huge climax. Paddy and Ger’s duelling vocals, too, brought a new energy. Going exciting places, this Patrick Kelleher.

So then Future Islands. Like I said, I haven’t seen them before. I came to Future Islands on their last album, In Evening Air, with the vague knowledge that they had this live reputation. At first I was confused. I’m pretty sure a lot of people are confused. Here’s this post-new wave synth stuff, vaguely fragile sounding and maybe even saleable if the right whining fringe sang over it. But then there’s Samuel Herring.

Uncanny, is a good word for his voice. It’s one of the knots to untie with Future Islands, the fact that he doesn’t speak like a semi-aristocratic mid-Atlantic school tie old boy. He does sing like one. But it’s so far gone it doesn’t feel like an affectation. It feels like a character, something to transform into to let out all these ultra personal emotions that come through their songs – unrequited love, fucking up, being far away and a lot of other sad things.

I’ve been doing a little thinking about characters as indie band singers lately, apropos Kevin Barnes’ attempt to explain that he’s not roleplaying as Georgie Fruit any more, but it’s still a character. Authenticity is one of the idols of this whole constellation of music, but punk’s not what it was in terms of influence, and the hyper-irony of self-consuming online hipster criticism is seeping into how bands approach what they do. I’m not suggesting that Sam Herring’s being ironic, because he’s probably not. He’s about as sincere a guy as you could find, down to the berserker chest-beating and the preparatory sad face he pulls during instrumental intros while he’s waiting to sing.

But it is still worth noting that, as far as my reading goes, he’s playing a character rather than just adopting a stage persona which everyone does to some degree (except Ted Leo, obviously). It adds a layer of distance between the audience and the performer to a certain extent, but it also makes it much easier on a personal level to engage with. Jamie Stewart rubs salt in his own wounds without the redemptive power of a totem character to project through. He’s hard to watch. There’s none of those moments of sunken stomach empathy and despair with Future Islands, sad as they are. In a sense, Herring and the audience experience the same character, and it’s cathartic for everyone.

This could all be bullshit, but it’s fun to think about. Without any of that stuff, this was a gig par excellence, paced a little poorly but made of great songs, enthusiastic performance and a crowd as open as you will find in Dublin short of the youth crew at their favourite band in Marlay Park. When beats dropped, people bounced. Bounced. Not shuffled awkwardly, but actually dipped in height and returned to their original height in time with the music. That was fun.

Worth not fixing my phone for three extra days. Also at this point a shout out to my cousin whose antics at the last Future Islands gig are apparently ‘infamous’ according to the singer, from the stage, while introducing the song her infamy was cemented during, last time.

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All my identity mutations are dosed in books.

There I am, standing outside the Academy at 2.42pm, eating an apple that’s serving as a replacement for breakfast in case I need food to avoid freaking out. I’m about to meet and interview Kevin Barnes. If you want my opinion on Kevin Barnes, it’s here and here. If you don’t know who he is, he’s basically of Montreal, although you have pretty much no excuse for not knowing that.

A guy walks past me to the door with a paper bag. There are arms sticking out of it. I ask him if he’s going in, walk in with him and proceed to make small talk.

“Did you buy some arms?”
“Yeah man. 2 euro store. Some fake arms, some fake blood. And these silver gorilla masks. Gotta take advantage of the local plenty you know?”

This was David Barnes, Kevin Barnes’ brother, who did almost all of their cover art and had an excellent website full of other stuff before he took it down. I didn’t know that at the time or I would have had a bit of a fawn. Anecdote over.

Several hours later I show up to the actual gig, skillfully avoiding having to see Planet Parade. There’s a guy shouting at the bouncers after being kicked out already, within the first song. Good work MCD.

The first thing to notice about this gig relative to past of Montreal gigs is that it’s all a live band now. Where once there was a murkily-mixed backing track of programmed bass and drums, there are now talented musicians. The members who’ve been around forever have obviously had the Elephant 6 ramshackle shaken out of them at some point since the last tour. The most obvious new member is , K Ishibashi who plays violin, guitar, keyboards and bass, if I recall correctly, and also does a wicked impression of Kevin Barnes’ falsetto that leaves The Late BP Helium free stage-left to do the harmonies in a range he’s more comfortable with while he vogues and plays a double-neck guitar.

It’s strange seeing of Montreal now. Hissing Fauna was Hissing Fauna (and – get this, oM fans who are as lax in their study as I seem to be – Barnes pronounces it Fowna). The subsequent albums are, by every scientific standard, less good. But Skeletal Lamping rewarded patience, even if the urge to perform some sonic surgery to remove the ‘I’m a motherfucking headliner’ bit from the otherwise lovely Wicked Wisdom is strong as ever. And False Priest, dripped as it is in the affected falsetto sex squeal thing and confused as it might sound, is just as intriguing once you realise what it is that he’s actually saying.

They’re a better band now than they’ve ever been before, to see live. And, without the Jon Brion post-production, False Priest stuff sits incredibly well alongside the Sunlandic Twins/Hissing Fauna/Skeletal Lamping stuff. Our Riotous Defects touches Comedy Barnes, unseen for the most part since before Nina, weird sex squeal Barnes, and, on Janelle Monae’s part that he sings himself in her absence, abstract, transcendent Barnes. And Coquet Coquette could’ve sat in after She’s A Rejecter fairly comfortably, three years ago.

There was also plenty of Hissing Fauna, which is great news even to the hardiest of devotees. The live band means they can do an accelerating intro to Gronlandic Edit that drops a bomb when it actually kicks in. Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse, being the ‘hit’ in these parts as far as I can discern, goes down predictably well too. It’s weird, though. Barnes is a different person on stage, or at least a different character, than he was when he was doing this stuff the first time round. It’s post-Georgie Fruit Kevin Barnes that sings everything now, no guitar in hand, pretty much frolicking around the stage with his admittedly improved but also slightly less revelatory singing voice. That’s fine, and lots of fun. But worth noting.

And so David Barnes used the arms and the blood and the silver gorilla masks. Anthropomorphic animals in lycra battled on stage, they begged for Kevin’s blessing, they lifted him up, they faked fighting him, they played hype man for the encore and they exploded streamers and confetti from their wrists like weird abstract Spidermen. It’s a reverie, no doubt.

The encore? There’s almost always a cover. If you weren’t hep to that, check out You Ain’t No Picasso’s archive of oM’s covers. There are lots, and those are only the ones that got catalogued. They’re usually tributes to someone you can hear in their music – David Bowie features heavily, say, and so do the various 60s bands you see on the cover of Mojo, and Prince. Fittingly for Nu-Kevin, the encore in the Academy was…

Thriller! An exclamation mark there – one in every 10,000 words is apparently the guideline, so it’s probably time – to acknowledge how surprised the crowd was when the massive synth chords hit for the first time. And then two more Michael Jackson songs medley’d into it before going back to those Thriller chords to end. It’s not The Past Is A Grotesque Animal, but it was fun as hell.

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MESS! ME! UP!

I went to see Nobunny in the Knitting Factory in Williamsburg. He is a bunny. And a nutcase. It was full. Somewhere over 50% of the crowd seemed to stagedive. One man over six feet in height stagedove onto a woman under 5’3″ at one point. Someone bought me a can of PBR because they said I looked super-friendly.

None of it made sense. I’m writing it off as opposite day. And drawing a line under New York. POSTS ABOUT IRELAND FROM TOMORROW

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Just a deadbeat summer.

viaCRLS

In the most recent issue of the L Magazine, Todd Goldstein from ARMS says the following:

The C-word – chillwave – or whatever… I think some of it is so boring, The sounds are beautiful, and I think that’s what makes people excited, but they’re not actual songs, you know?

Now, ARMS are terrible, but there is some truth in this. A couple of days after the Grizzly Bear gig that cause me to leak effusion out of every journalistic pore, I returned to Governor’s Island with a crew to chill on the fake beach and see Neon Indian.

Chillwave is something that completely passed me by. It’s actually difficult to talk about it in terms that aren’t completely ripped from Hipster Runoff (who invented the name, to Pitchfork’s chagrin). I enjoyed Deadbeat Summer in the two weeks it sat on my car-shop €15 mp3 player, and I didn’t hate it when I heard it after that, but in general I’m with Mr. Goldstein. It’s the reason I get unreasonably angry with people who think Person Pitch is better than any Animal Collective album, too. Because something sounds nice when you’re barely paying attention doesn’t make it good music (though that’s unfair to Person Pitch, which is a great album in its own right).

So, in surroundings that, as evidenced by Morning Benders, Caribou and Grizzly Bear gig visits, would make almost anything seem a little transplendent, Neon Indian was shown up. The hype that surrounded the Neon Indian-Washed Out-Memory Tapes-general chillwave rise to “relevance” was the most self-aware imaginable, and it was factual proof that irony, while not in itself disagreeable, can end up lumping you with baggage you don’t want.

Five bands played this show. Miniature Tigers, Prefuse 73, Dom, Nite Jewel and Neon Indian. None of the above did anything to merit even listening to after the fact. Miniature Tigers were the best. Dom, easily, were the worst, and barely even knew their own set. But it was Neon Indian’s name on the top of the bill, and it was their show to disappoint.

Governor’s Island, as the name implies, is an island.It is thus relatively difficult to leave. It was full to capacity (c. 3.5k), or close, at about dusk. There were less than 500 actually in front of the stage by the time Neon Indian ended. Democracy doesn’t work a lot of the time, but when ears don’t hear what they want, feet walk, and that’s what happened.

There was some merit in sitting on sand, away from generally bored and sarcastic friends, and trying to ‘chill hard’ to Deadbeat Summer, while it lasted, but no amount of talking around it would make this a good gig. It might be easier to hear ten tracks of pseudo-tropical gloop on an iPod while you’re refreshing Facebook than it is to listen to (for example) Adebisi Shank, but it’s definitely not as rewarding, and there’s nothing like big speakers, a big stage and a big crowd to show that up.

Tissue and bone it was a tryst.

Sorry Brooklyn Vegan, again. Some day I will buy a good camera.

If you’ve read a couple of these reviews, you’ve probably noticed that I go to almost exclusively free gigs. Well, no. Completely exclusively free gigs. It takes a freak accident or a ridiculously generous friend who can’t get out of work for that trend to be bucked. Owing to the latter, against $40 odds (that’s about 10 days of staying alive), I found myself on the ferry again to Governor’s Island.

There’ve been some incredible shows. Caribou on Governor’s will be one of those hazy, reverie-type memories for as long as my memory lasts. Sonic Youth was like a Greek statue, a perfect museum-piece of what a Sonic Youth gig in Brooklyn was going to be like in my head. HEALTH was loud. But this one was the best.

I got to the island slightly late, because it turns out time is linear rather than cyclical, as I had previously thought. As I queued at the “Will Call” stand, Gang Gang Dance put down what sounded like a pretty intense set for a first support. I made my way past the drinks wristband guy, confident in the knowledge that the $1.30 in my pocket wasn’t going to buy me anything worth having, and crossed the fake beach one more time to take up residence in front of Hamilton Leithauser and the Walkmen.

Bows + Arrows is the only Walkmen album I ever paid any attention to, and even though I liked it a lot at the time, it’s been scrolled past consistently for nearly five years now. Still, open mind. They’re a strange band to watch.

Since Bows + Arrows, they’ve slowed down and calmed down a little, but there’s still the feeling that Leithauser is an overstuffed straw doll, bursting at the seams and malfunctioning sadly a little even when the melodies are happy. You can take Hamilton Leithauser’s hands out of his tailored trouser pockets, but you can’t take the hands-in-pockets out of Hamilton Leithauser. They play okay, with a little bit too much of what seems like self-regard on the slower ones, and they criminally skip P4K’s 20th best track of the 2000s.

None of that, nearly 400 words in, is relevant to why this was the best gig of the summer and one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. That was what came next, after a rain shower, some crew panic, a feud between poncho-wearers and “Williamsburg pansy pricks” with umbrellas and a delay of at least a half an hour. Grizzly Bear.

It’s been long established that Grizzly Bear are an awe-inspiringly tight and excellent live band, but this was something else. They came out and opened with an almost unrecognisable version of Showcase from Horn of Plenty that sounded like what Radiohead probably wish In Rainbows sounded like live, spotless, skewed and gigantic. Then it was into Southern Point and no more surprises till the encore.

Scale changes the experience at shows, and even though it was wet, the twin key factors of volume and lights, not to mention the downtown Manhattan skyline, made it two gears beyond anything I’ve seen them do before. Knife and Two Weeks are the obvious hits, but they seemed like the least impressive things tonight, possibly because they’re made of nothing that has physical effect when pumped out of bus-sized speakers – Two Weeks has no guitar at all and a drum part too intricate to really break up, and Knife is strangely subdued. Crowd singalongs, though, might have made up for the slight dip in energy.

Grizzly Bear’s variation on the Loud-Quiet-Loud formula (Quiet-Quiet-Loud-Quiet-Loud-Loud maybe?) is exponentially more pronounced on stage when they’re actually playing off each other. It’s Chris Bear on drums and Daniel Rossen on guitar who take this to its extreme. The troughs (or oases of calm, would possibly be a better way of putting it) are cowing. Foreground is as fragile these things come. But the peaks are almost destructive. The set’s packed with songs that show this off: Lullabye, the Friend version of Little Brother, I Live With You and While You Wait For The Others all feature impeccably loud, rhythmically untrustworthy wig-out sections.

Without going further down the internal thesaurus route, it’s hard to describe exactly how good this was. I tried taking some notes on my phone, but they’re just garbled nonsense. It’s rare that an entire set, start to finish, is completely captivating, even when it’s a band whose entire catalogue you know well. It was just a perfect combination of set, untouchable talent, location and the fact that I hadn’t even expected to be there until the day.

The set closed with While You Wait For The Others into the second half of On A Neck On A Spit, and even though it was 12.5 songs long, it seemed almost like a cheat, like when a band shows up and plays a 25 minute set. The encore was, again, an unrecognisable Horn of Plenty song, Fix It. After that, it was just three minutes of staring at an empty stage and fighting both sides of an internal Socratic dialogue on whether it was the best live show I’d ever seen.

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Showcase (Horn Of Plenty)
Southern Point (Veckatimest)
Cheerleader (Veckatimest)
Lullabye (Yellow House)
Little Brother (Friend)
Knife (Veckatimest)
Fine For Now (Veckatimest)
Two Weeks (Veckatimest)
Ready, Able (Veckatimest)
I Live With You (Veckatimest)
Foreground (Veckatimest)
While You Wait For The Others (Veckatimest)
On A Neck, On A Spit (Second Half) (Yellow House)
Encore: Fix It (Horn Of Plenty)

Skip this one.

via Fader, I was at least one mile further away than this.

XX in the Park
Came late, 20k plus there
Sat outside, pretty good.

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Do the Kurt Cobain and blow your brains out.

There is a story I wish I could tell you about something that happened at YACHT at the South Street Seaport. It’s a spectacularly unlikely tale that would make you laugh, think and question whether it ever really happened. But I can’t tell you that story, unfortunately.

I can tell you that YACHT aren’t very good, though. If you know YACHT, then you pretty much know that they’re camp as Dachau, with not a whole lot going on except DIY disco and some slogan shouting.

I’ve heard reports of them being a lot of fun, and I don’t deny that in certain situations, they could be a lot of fun. But on this day, at this place, with these climatic conditions and this geopolitical balance, YACHT weren’t a lot of fun.

Their songs are, for the most part, fluff, and despite the fact that maybe two or three could have been worth attention, everything was marred by a drummer who couldn’t keep time to what were obviously quantised beats, and a generally pretty low tightness:trying to make people have fun ratio.

Thumbs down to YACHT. Worth it only because of the thrilling, secret story I can’t tell you.