"We’ve played in probably thirty-five different venues in and around New York area over the past fourteen years, and this was always our favorite, this is where it all started. So we’re so happy to be back at the Barclays Center after so long" frontman Matt Berninger lied at the start of their set at the corporately named show space. "He’s takin the piss innit he?" doubly joked the Englishman to my right looking for a laugh wherever he could get it. I nodded in acknowledgement and then spent the next two hours watching The National transform into an arena rock band. Unsurprisingly it totally worked. Soft echoey synth lines were replaced by distorted guitar melodies and Berninger’s bark that often comes near the end of their songs was turned way up in the mix. The horns featured on more songs than they do on record, and twin brothers / guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner led the crowd in anthemic clap-alongs. I didn’t participate in the latter exercise but still enjoyed seeing this club band from not long ago appeal to such a market.
True workhorse of the band, drummer Bryan Devendorf kept things moving along and interesting when the standard indie rock guitars might otherwise trail off on their own. They have begun writing in odd time signatures on their latest Trouble Will Find Me which suggests perhaps the midlife crisis is settling in the form of offbeats and crazy rhythms. This is their first record of Berninger’s forties and it seems the new decade just unloaded a fresh batch of material for him to feel bad about. This band is privileged guilt embodied in musical form and the recognition of this is what keeps these wealthy men relatable.
St. Vincent, reportedly coming straight from the airport, joined on vocals for “This is the Last Time” but unfortunately didn’t play any guitar. She writes riffs poised for an arena setting and deserves to have this kind of crowd rabid for maximalism. Their loud songs like “Don’t Swallow the Cap”, “Abel”, and “Squalor Victoria” worked best in this setting due obviously to the vast space each song had the task of filling in. Quieter tracks like “Pink Rabbits” and “Demons” sounded like they could undergo some sort of added instrumentation just to fit better to the setting, but I’m sure they’ll get to rearranging those eventually. Berninger looks like he’s physically breaking down over the course of a National set. He made his way through the general admission floor audience during “Mr. November” as he normally does, but this time the crowd was a whole lot bigger than when I first saw them do this song New Year’s Eve 2005 at Irving Plaza. It seems like the members are all much more emotionally invested in The National at this point which leads to a greater spectacle and better performance. It wasn’t novel seeing this indie rock band play at one end of the court where the Nets play; at this point in their careers it is exactly where they need to be.
Downtown Records brought their fest to the Lower East Side over the weekend. As part of this, 4AD’s inc. and Mexican Summer’s Autre Ne Veut played Pianos on Saturday night. Of all the R&B influenced indie over the past few years, these two groups have been responsible for some of the best. It’s so easy for this kind of music to fail, but these two incorporate such precision and due respect to their influences that it works in both cases.
Playing first, Autre Ne Veut’s enthusiasm and excessive movement on stage showed a man unafraid of judgment. He flipped his hat backwards and dove right in, unleashing a thirty minute set mostly focusing on his latest, 2013’s “Anxiety”. To reference one of his songs, he truly seemed “ego-free” which was refreshing in a world of indie-rock where bands often just linger on stage like their feet are duct-taped to one area. The live drummer played along to the recorded synths and a woman contributed vocals that made the sound way stronger whenever she entered. Hearing leader Arthur Ashin talk about Bobby Brown in all those interviews totally makes sense now; he only wants to be perceived as having the energy of New Edition in the ’80s. The indie aspect is introduced with the hints of paranoia and doubt that went lacking in the confident R&B he often rips.
It’s hard to say whether inc.’s music works best recorded or live. One thing I immediately realized is how well the performance complements the album. Watching the two brothers Andrew and Daniel Aged work with a live drummer and keyboardist made me give a greater appreciation to the album, which already ranked as one of my top in 2013. The xx has done it and The Weeknd has done it, but inc. has done it again. Guitarist Andrew Aged blasts his chorus pedal until it can’t possibly moan any more, getting a guitar tone that sounds unique at least held up to their contemporaries. “Desert Rose (War Prayer)” was played first as if they needed to get the festival crowd on their side from the start. The brothers often harmonized on vocals sounding like Sade constrained to a very slim range. It works for them though. The drummer calmed down by the ending, whether due to tiring himself out with all those fills in the first few songs, or because he realized this kind of music doesn’t really lend itself to overplaying. Imagine Buddy Rich going to town over those last two Talk Talk records, it just doesn’t work like that. They played a thirty minute set highlighting most of “No World”, their latest release on 4AD. I was expecting to see the two brothers hunched over synthesizers and drum machines, and instead got a full band set that allowed for the songs to blossom in new arrangements. Either probably would have pleased me, but in a setting where the former is becoming more and more the norm, it’s nice to see a group try a little harder by going back to basics.
While in NYC for the third time in six months, Jessie Ware played to another packed house of fans at Webster Hall. Having debuted at The Box late last year, she moved up to Bowery Ballroom in January and quickly sold out two April shows at the once-Ritz and Music Hall of Williamsburg. Ware is on the standard path buzzy musicians take in NY to one day headline Radio City Music Hall. With only one album out, she played the bulk of it along with a couple new tracks and a cover of Brownstone’s “If You Love Me”. She spoke at length between nearly every song but not in a way that broke up the rhythm of the show; it was natural, organic and welcomed by all.
Ware comes off as endearing in how surprised she is by people enjoying her music. Between January and now she has become an assured performer rather than simply a good singer. Her three-piece band has only become tighter and more in tune with her album’s minimal sound. Drummer Dornik Leigh could teach seminars on restraint that most percussionists could stand to hear. Bassist Rocco Palladino’s sound is closer to his father Pino’s work on D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” than Pino’s many tours with The Who. There is a very low-key and effective sound they are aiming for and achieving. Ware’s pop presence up front however has made it feel as much Lisa Lisa as Lisa Stansfield. I’d love to see Ware take it back another decade from Brownstone and cover Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s “I Wonder If I Take You Home”. That and Timberlake covering Stevie’s “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It” are like dreams and I’m not even a sucker for covers.
Ware’s trifecta of “No To Love”, “Wildest Moments”, and “Running” closed out the night, proving she knows which are her best songs. Anything one would desire from music is accomplished in those twelve minutes as emotions are tested and normally stoic bodies begin to move. Dancey enough for the club goers, and calm enough for the too cool types, Ware fits into a nice midsection of pop music. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to call her middle of the road. There are those rare exceptions producing refreshing music while also appealing to most listeners. With music so explosively EDM-centric this last half-decade, it’s nice to see the youth who grew up with that branching out into a world where Jessie Wares can cultivate all the same excitement, albeit down a more subtle avenue.
Last Monday night, Depeche Mode played a nine song set at the Letterman-occupied Ed Sullivan Theater. This was the band’s first public performance in three years and was used to highlight the strength of their new album, "Delta Machine". Broadcast live online and used as a warmup for their slightly longer (by one song) SXSW performance, this performance showed a band not yet ready for a long tour, but ready to promote their latest work. It takes a lot of confidence in recent material to fill half a set with unheard music and still expect people in the audience to move, and keep the crowd at home tuned in especially with our seemingly unlimited options compared to when the band began and MTV was one of the only places to go for a dual visual/aural stimulation. They pulled it off though and pulled everyone into the “Delta Machine”, their thirteenth record and first since 2009’s “Sounds of the Universe”.
Starting with the live debuts of “Angel” and “Should Be Higher”, fans were excited no matter the sound just at the sight of the band. They were here on time and playing new stuff, and hey it sounds exactly like Depeche Mode should sound. They’ve had a close to flawless track record over the last thirty years by sticking with their niche and not veering too far into territory they might not feel as comfortable in. Comfort is a funny word to describe this band as they were one of the first groups to jam discomfort into the pop world. Coming at a time just in between punk and new wave, Depeche Mode culls from the industrial world Throbbing Gristle founded, while stamping their signature pop sound on it, heading straight into a more accessible field with rhythmic rather than out of time drum patterns and, increasingly over time, soaring vocals. Dave Gahan has become a bit of a rock icon and despite his good looks and crooning call, he has had all the pratfalls to go along with the title. All of these characteristics for better or worse have laid the groundwork for Depeche Mode as they are now. By song three “Walking in My Shoes” from 1993’s “Songs of Faith and Devotion”, the band was all in. The small crowd of a couple hundred was on their feet from the go with the new music, but this familiar favorite really reeled everyone in. Coupled with the first performance in fifteen years of “Barrel of a Gun”, people were sent into a frenzy between dancing and texting their friends letting them know that Depeche Mode is switching up their setlist a bit for the tour to come.
Anton Corbijn’s "Devotional" document of their 1993 tour was an early favorite of mine in terms of how a live show can be captured on film. Corbijn caught all the visuals that appear dated now but are emblematic of an era when ticket prices were rising and set designs were getting more intricate. The way colors reacted along to the music and how Gahan put himself in motion against the towering backdrop proved the point MTV made all through the ’80s: it was never just about the music, and now we have the technology and funds to show you all about that. The performances Depeche Mode are doing this spring have been back to basics in their under an hour sets without detailed lighting plots and wild visuals, but once the arena shows begin, first in Europe and then later in the year in the US, the band will return to teaming their music with the all-out experience everyone deserves out of it. These stripped down shows have given us the chance to live these new songs for the first time on their own, and it’s a testament to the power of their music that is always the backbone of this enterprise.
There’s a new band coming out of California called DVA DAMAS who have appropriated a lot of the same machines as Depeche Mode and put them to use in a less poppy but more snotty way. If both bands had industrial as a template and Depeche Mode went more towards the new wave, DVA DAMAS went headfirst into punk. They rip a too rarely explored section of post-punk along with bands like Richmond’s Lost Tribe and Barcelona’s Belgrado. There was more to pull from than got played, and these three bands are mining for sounds their predecessors may have missed out on. DVA DAMAS’ first 12” is called "Nightshade" and its twenty minutes go by in a blur. A voice that sounds like it is mocking or haunting you the entire time guides you through infinite bliss of synths and programmed drums. They’ve stripped away even more than post-punk revivalists of the late ’00s like Blank Dogs and Cold Cave, and have created something that sounds authentic. The hiss sounds like it belongs where many new punk or noise bands will add an extra layer of noise now just to appear like there is something different when there really isn’t. This really feels isolated yet completely relatable, exactly how punk should be. I’m not these people or anyone else and we’d probably never get along, but there’s something there we latch onto whether we like it or not. DVA DAMAS is minimal perfection that traps you in its short spurts of music and then release you refreshed still believing in punk.
Performing with a three-piece band behind her, Jessie Ware took to Bowery Ballroom on Thursday for her second proper New York show in as many months and convinced all attending that she should play here over and over again. Though her NY premiere came at The Box in December, and she played a short acoustic set Wednesday at an MTV showcase at Highline Ballroom, her set at Bowery felt most like her welcome party. The middle of the show found an adoring fan named Derek showering Ware with flowers and affection. This choked up the singer for the duration of the next song. For someone whose intro track has a chorus of “I need your devotion”, she becomes purely appreciative when the devoted deliver.
Ware still seems skeptical of people enjoying her music. This skepticism is an endearing quality about her that puts her self-consciousness on proud display, humbling both crowd and artist. Though her album was released last summer, it has not yet found distribution over here in the U.S., but in these modern times music finds a way onto our machines without paying a marked up import rate. Most songs were loudly sung along to by people who have not yet even had the opportunity to buy the record. Ware kept a small collection of samplers near and casually triggered the vocal samples that prominently feature on the record. The few times she did fumble even felt rehearsed to drive the point home once again that holy shit, she is so human.
Her voice and act is completely professional and she put in work getting a live band together that could function both as a reflection of her album and as a good group for any fairweather music fan to go see. Rocco Palladino has been playing bass on this tour, and it would not be worth noting who is father is if he didn’t play, look, and move exactly like Pino Palladino. Trained by the man who played most of the bass on D’Angelo’s “Voodoo”, Rocco knows restraint and playing in the pocket like few others, especially in the realm of modern American R&B. The show gradually built upon itself until hitting her three best at the finale and then respectably bowing out without an encore.
Three or four years ago, an act so obviously influenced by Sade and Lisa Stansfield would not have had a home in this world. The rise of R&B in indie rock is not without complications. What becomes of the artists who formed the genesis for what is now popular in a totally different sphere than the one in which it earlier existed? Solange, who played for years to small crowds and is now finding fame in this nu-R&B phase, says “so you can stop acting like it just popped off last year for R&B. Like it just got interesting and experimental.” This is all true, but the one thing this latest model has embraced, Solange’s latest “True” included, is influence from indie rock meshed with a wide scope of soul music. Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Jessie Ware, The xx all undeniably borrow elements from indie rock records, both musically and in a DIY aspect. So you can say this style of R&B is finding the same fate as indie rock in the late ’90s, as rap in the early ’90s, and as punk in the ’80s. All these styles are largely based in experimentation (what music isn’t?) and certain artists found a way in their specific era to appeal to a new base. They did this by utilizing ingredients from the style that base is most comfortable in. Also by embracing the climate in which we pay for music. The most we can hope for is that in the era of free music, kids will be more willing to seek out the originators, while still enjoying the brilliance being brought to them in the now.
Setlist from 01/17/13
- Still Love Me
- Night Light
- If You Love Me
- Sweet Talk
- Swan Song
- Taking In Water
- Something Inside
- What You Won’t Do For Love
- No to Love
- Wildest Moments
When indie rock stopped being interesting however many years ago, some would have been content to let it drift off and die. The torch has been carried in the traditional sense by bands like Real Estate and Wild Nothing who keep it simple, inoffensive, and pleasant enough but don’t really break any ground. Three of the more refreshing indie rock inspired records this year came from artists who had previously dabbled in similar sounds but never attacked at the level they currently do. The first is Chromatics’ “Kill For Love” which stays grounded in the group’s electro roots while pushing ever closer to indie. Their recently released "Cherry" single even borrows lyrics from The Magnetic Fields. The second record came from one-half of the mighty OutKast in Big Boi’s “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors”, and the third from Solange. Teaming up with Dev Hynes AKA Blood Orange, and FKA Lightspeed Champion, the younger Knowles sis’ has crafted a thirty minute beauty that takes cues as much from The Smiths as it does from Sade. Knowles and Hynes played their first proper show together behind “True” Tuesday night at Bowery Ballroom. Together they push the boundaries of both ’80s R&B and jangly indie-pop creating something that sounds like the future.
Solange’s set consisted of every song from her new EP “True” plus “T.O.N.Y.” and “Sandcastle Disco” from 2008’s “Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams”. Any more than two past tracks would have felt wrong in this setting. Four years has done wonders to her music, and there is nothing she has done before that can hold its own against “True”. On stage no longer than forty-five minutes, this exercise in quality over quantity went over just fine with the crowd, especially one lady who yelled “BEST NIGHT EVER!” as Solange wrapped her main set with “Losing You”. “Bad Girls” and “Locked In Closets” revealed a darkness not as prevalent in her other tracks allowing the set to reach introspection. Set starter “Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work” and “Lovers in the Parking Lot” had everyone moving and more importantly smiling. In the encore of “Sandcastle Disco” you could see big sis’ Beyoncé getting wild in the balcony singing along and taking pics of Solange with a point-and-shoot camera. It was an endearing moment and somehow this brief appearance by pop’s god wasn’t even the highlight of the show. Solange owned the room with applause drowning out most of her in between song banter. This was Solange’s house and it’s nice Beysus took her shoes off while inside.
"True" is an album that finds Solange at her most comfortable. In the past, she skipped around from sound to sound looking for a direction that really fit her personality, and now she seems to have unearthed an idea that is purely hers. This is the suave Solange we see in public personified for the first time in song. Even when her music wasn’t this cohesive, her fashion always was. This sense remains with her Bowery ensemble consisting of a just barely not matching floral green jacket and pant combination that even caught the eye of this non-fashionista. On stage it would appear the music is just a vehicle to allow her to dance freely in front of 500 people. You can tell she loves dancing, and especially loves the understated and cool as hell routines she has choreographed for herself and her band. She really belts out the songs when it comes to that, and sells everything through beautifully. While her vocals never seem too difficult, they always carry out nice melodies and remain impressive. It’s hard to pick any one of the new songs to single out as a highlight because all are pop gold and will appeal to a wide range of people who have not yet discovered her music.
Playing a set of standards wouldn’t be Neil Young’s style. At sixty-seven years old, he is pushing into the future quicker than ever. Realizing time is no longer completely on his side, he has regrouped with his longtime backing band Crazy Horse for the first time in eight years to do what he does best and what he seems to have the most fun with. Outside of a three song acoustic break, the four elder grunge-men pummeled away with a sound that seemed even bigger than the prop amps they had on stage behind them could produce. The show began with a quick prerecorded rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, after which the American flag backdrop came soaring down to reveal a Crazy Horse banner. Young may be from Canada, but with Crazy Horse he created one of the great American rock bands. This recent tour backing their latest “Psychedelic Pill” is another high point in a forty year plus career.
Their first song of the night “Love and Only Love” from 1990’s “Ragged Glory” is lyrically a glance back at hippie ideology with its sonic feet firmly planted in the now. Even as grunge has come and gone, Crazy Horse still gives off a feeling that has yet to be cracked by others. Certainly noisier than any of the lesser acts that followed through the ’90s, the band relies on feedback in a way that keeps improving. At a sold out Madison Square Garden, they tore through a two hour set that leaned more on making their guitars squeal and less on melody. Who else could hold an arena crowd’s attention with musical ideas like that for so long? “Walk Like a Giant” from their latest album (which was priced at $80 for the 3LP at the merch booth!) played out even better in a live setting. The verses are slow meditations on regret and the noise that follows each verse mirrors this feeling. Add in the crushing decay as age creeps up on a person and Neil Young has poured his entire emotional being into the sound of his guitar.
The acoustic set was well received but unnecessary in this setting. “The Needle and the Damage Done” was the only stand out of the three songs he played stripped-down. Walking around the stage amongst old ghosts who once stood up there with him, Young played through the “Harvest” track alone and clearly bothered. Still nearly half a century later, you can tell how deep this song flows through his system. “Fuckin’ Up” and “Hey Hey, My My” closed the main set with Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” lodged between them. Leading the audience in a chant of “just a fuck up, you’re just a fuck up, he’s just a fuck up” and so on, paralleled the unnerving guitar riff that carries much of “Fuckin’ Up”. Where most of the “guitar gods” play solos that sound confident, Young and his second guitarist Poncho have mastered a sound that comes off as more human, self-aware and self-conscious. This is something I feel a greater affection for and is a big reason why they can still sell out arenas as they approach their seventies. The only real “greatest hit” of the night was “Cinnamon Girl”. They sludged through it at a pace that bands like Sleep and Dead Meadow have admired and taken so much from. Even a track as classic as “Cinnamon Girl” could be updated and improved upon. As long as they stay alive, they’ll remain on top of things and unafraid of moving ahead. Crazy Horse in 2012 has shown themselves to be as relevant as Crazy Horse in the early ’70s.
- Love and Only Love
- Born in Ontario
- Walk Like a Giant
- The Needle and the Damage Done
- Twisted Road
- Singer Without a Song
- Ramada Inn
- Cinnamon Girl
- Fuckin’ Up
- Mr. Soul
- Hey Hey, My My
- Roll Another Number