The Brooklyn Infringement Festival

Last night the hipsterati of East Williamsburg came out in droves for the Brooklyn Infringement Festival, a showcase of up-and-coming bands at Don Pedro (90 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn). The bar has all the makings of a classic dive: a velvet painting of Billy Dee Williams on the wall, PBR on tap, a bathroom missing a toilet seat. In short, Liz and Laura’s definition of true class. On this evening, although there wasn’t a raincloud in the sky, a pool of water had somehow collected in the basement where some of the bands were playing. As we surveyed the growing lake of water of mysterious origin puddling around our feet, and the power cables and music equipment marinating in that same lake, we knew were in for an interesting evening.

The possibility of electrocution aside, the evening started out well. We unfortunately missed one of the bands we intended to see, KITTEN: Revenge!, but we hear this experimental outfit rocked the house. By the time we got there, the band Toi Toi Toi was just splashing up to their mics to start a spirited set of edgy rock songs. Their sound was reminiscent of Sleater-Kinney and all sorts of other good stuff, and their outfits took us back to the days of Dynasty, with their bright colors and unnecessary shoulder pads.

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After fueling up with more cheap beer, we settled in on the main level to watch Groovesteady Sextet do their thing. The ensemble played a rousing, brass-filled set of jazzy songs that really got the crowd going.

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A lovely time was had by all, as well as too much beer, and as we stumbled homeward, our ears still ringing, we had a revelation: there’s a lot of goddamn hipsters in this neighborhood.

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Joanna Newsom

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Seeing Joanna Newsom perform live brings a nice sense of formality and classic performance grace to a group of kids most likely used to standing around sweatily and being shoved about. Beards and plaid abounded at the excitedly abuzz Town Hall, where the innate classiness of the venue drove in that unique combination of indie/quirky artist and rich, concert-hall show. Her last trip to town — to perform Y’s in its entirety with the Brooklyn Philharmonic at BAM — was similarly classy, and while this setting and feel is indeed appropriate for the music she brings, the crowd’s adulation and formal applause had her sheepish and grinning. As she explained, she never quite got over her nervousness this evening, because “New York is so cool.” The drunken, groping groupies sitting in front of me certainly thought she was cool, bringing elements of your more typical rock concert to this recital setting, and displaying the most amazing, ear-splitting whistles I have ever heard.

Through mostly numbers off the just-released (and fantastic) Have One On Me, Newsom played on harp and piano with accompaniment from a small group of musicians — Ryan Francesconi who’s responsible for the album’s arrangements, and a trombone player, drummer, and two violinist/vocalists. It felt like a special privilege to see the Francesconi/Newsom collaboration in action as he skipped between instruments (tambura, guitar, banjo, recorder, etc.) in order to do justice to his carefully crafted parts. Newsom was enchanting when behind either the dwarfing harp, or the Steinway, beaming and shaking her head to the song’s rhythms in some adorable state of concentration. Her vocal performance was highly notable in that she’s clearly gone through a journey with that voice of hers, training and harnessing it to produce her chosen notes with professional mastery rather than strain. Early recordings charm with their lack of any attempt to hide challenges and hiccups, instead going brazenly through the notes she and the songs wanted to hit; Have One On Me is not without her extreme quirk, but the girl’s much, much more in control of her voice now.

Besides the new songs, Newsom rewarded the audience with a few tracks off Milk-Eyed Mender, and one wonderful morsel from ­Ys, “Emily.” It was re-arranged in order to allow performance by the set of musicians available at the show, but did not come off as any less large. Francesconi delivered, for example, the fatherly banjo parts, while the trombone player pulled out a mouth harp just for those few cricket notes.  While there was a bit of a lean towards the slow-building, quieter parts from Have One On Me, a definite highlight was the titular track, where the vocal play between Newsom and the two backup singers at the end of the song was, to say the least, amazing. Though I do wish she had played a longer set, it was still a wonderful show in a perfectly appropriate setting, and the crowd (that included Lou Reed, I might add) eagerly gulped-up every single note. I think I still have goosebumps.

Setlist

Jackrabbits
Have One On Me
Easy
Soft As Chalk
Inflammatory Writ
Kingfisher
The Book Of right On
Autumn
Emily
Peach, Plum, Pear

Baby Birch

(please excuse the poor quality of these pictures)

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CMJ Day 2 – Cymbals Eat Guitars

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Bursting immediately into the explosive first track “And the Hazy Sea” off their debut album Why There Are Mountains, Cymbals Eat Guitars rocked an entranced Santos Party House last night. The members are talented, tight players that are quite visibly skilled at their instruments and bring what might be called an indie rock sound along with this precision. What makes them stand out, though, are their song structures.  They have all the normal elements that an appealing new band might keep things interesting by flitting between – guiltless pop, hazy wanderings, and screaming catharsis – but they do so with a randomness that is not often seen. The payoffs are not necessarily in the choruses, if the song even has a definable one, and elsewhere what might seem like a wailing, expend-all-the-energy climax transitions suddenly into lullaby. The set’s final song “Wind Phoenix (Proper Name),” for example, spent some time in summery pop bliss before delving into noisy, flailing jam that seemed like the perfect sendoff for a memorable evening. But the song was not over there, as singer/guitarist Joseph D’Agostino innocently began the real fadeout, the album’s catchiest melody that had him crooning as the ribbons of sweat still leapt from him face and onto the stage. Other highlights of the short set included “Some Trees (Merritt Moon),” “Indiana,” and a new song, all of which had CEG proving how refreshing it can be when a band that’s talented at the base leaps from one excellent idea to the next. They have, in fact, something for everyone, especially the easily bored.

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CMJ Day 1 – Laura Marling and The Antlers

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Arriving from the UK, from where it’s apparently a bitch to ship a cello, wise-beyond-her-years musician Laura Marling enraptured a packed house of believers. Tiny and girlish, but with a voice that’s not only lovely but alarmingly wise, Marling did not veer far from the shape of her songs in the live setting, though they were so bone chillingly rendered as to make attendance more than worth the effort. Opening with “Ghosts” and playing only that and “My Manic And I” off debut album “Alas I Cannot Swim,” she mostly presented tracks of her forthcoming follow-up, which she has just decided will be called “Speak Because I Can.”

New songs included one of the same name, as well as “Rambling Man” and “Hope In The Air,” to which the crowd responded enthusiastically. Marling’s draw is that, in addition to her deft guitar playing and fine songwriting skills, she’s got a voice that shocks in its gravity and takes hold with its strength, especially for one so young. Dressing in white and with a similarly colored light shining down upon her, she certainly looked angelic as she strummed, and as her voice cried out she retained a fixed, almost possessed gaze.  If she had played for any longer, the audience might  easily have been commanded to do her bidding.

Next came The Antlers, a band that clothes serious topics in both thoughtful tranquility and big, bright pop. One must be fine with leaping between moods to really enjoy them, which is made all the easier with Peter Silberman’s great voice paving the way, pleasing in that urgent, bratty sort of way and insanely capable of hitting the high notes live (and boy were they high). He and keys/effects guy Darby Cicci each had a tangle of pedals with which they engaged, and that really came to good use during moments of leg-kicking, frantic jamming. The Antlers break into melodies that are easy to latch onto, but just as often they float in thoughtful quietude or noisy experimentation – call them well-rounded, but they’re at their best when they really let loose.

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More CMJ coverage to come…

tUnE-YaRdS

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Merill Garbus, member of the excellent Sister Suvi (who’ve now either disbanded or simply gone on temporary hiatus) performed as her oddly-spelled solo project tUnE-YaRdS last night at Union Hall. Enthusiastic hooters and a few hilariously swaying hippies welcomed her to the low, comfortably livingroomesque space below Brooklyn’s favorite Bocce Ball bar. More than just a girl and her sweet ukulele ditties, Garbus brings a downright amazing vocal prowess, but also distinctive bits of quirk that elevate her above other singer/songwriters – she creates mountains of sound and her own percussive accompaniment with on-the-spot-recorded loops. She was also joined on this particular evening by a bass player and beer bottle tapper, filling the space with as much energy and intriguing sound as any full band could hope for.

Garbus has garnered a good amount of press as of late, and rightly so. Having recently signed to 4AD, she’ll also be touring with a certain critically-buzzed act that you may have heard of, Dirty Projectors. A highlight of the night was the infectiously swayable “Fiya,” on which she leaps from insecure little girl to feminine powerhouse, blasting a wonderful pop vocal melody over looped vocal backing and drum clacks. The light innocence of the ukulele brings a sweetness to her loud, strong wail, two seemingly mismatched strengths that in fact blend quite soothingly. Crowd favorite “Hatari” constructed a cascading flurry of hooting vocal parts, wonderfully strange and unique, before a break that had Garbus shouting from the rooftops, much to the audience’s delight. tUnE-YaRdS is so dang likeable not only because she’s doing things you haven’t heard before, but because even stripped down she’d be an engaging songwriter with a voice that will sink into your brain. Plus, she’s a sweetheart.

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Neko Case

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No pictures this time kiddos! Read on…

Despite being nestled in the bustling chaos of Times Square, contributing to the spectacle with its own flashy signage, the Nokia Theater isn’t actually all that bad. Sure, the lobby may look like the interior of a combination night club/food court with low blue light revealing a lunch counter and cell phone store, but at least the views are decent for the size of the place. Unfortunately, there was a camera situation. They asked me at the door if I had one, which I assumed meant a fancy professional camera, and I watched sadly as they rifled through my bag and pulled out my innocent little point-and-shoot. Then, they had a gentlemen actually escort me down the Space Mountain-esque escalator to the coat check area, where I was told I’d have to pay $3 to check the thing ($3 that could have gone towards a fine shot of Rumple Minze, which was on special for $5). I asked more about this absurd policy and they informed me that the artist had requested there be no cameras at this event. Now, I understand that constant flashing during a performance can be distracting, and even take away from the concert-going experience, but this requirement seems a little much considering how heavily blogs and such benefit the artist. And frankly, is it really the right time to take a stand against the changing nature of the concert experience, due to technology and lack of respect, when the performance is taking place in the corporate monster that is the Nokia Theatre?

That said, I still heart Neko Case, and she put on an excellent show consisting mostly of numbers from her new album, the fantastic Middle Cyclone. She seemed in good spirits, and opened with “Maybe Sparrow,” the climax of which sent the audience into an excited flurry and sent shivers down my spine as she hit the requisite notes without flaw. She was accompanied by a second guitarist, an upright bass, and two female backing vocalists with whom she seemed to have an excellent rapport. Neko’s banter was minimal but sharp as a tack, consisting mostly of silly one-liners that sent the audience into a tizzy each time – they really love her. Highlights included those tracks that allowed her voice to soar, hitting the notes as if it weren’t no thang, and reminding everyone why she’s got one the best voices in music (“The Pharaohs,” “Deep Red Beels”). She noted before “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” that it was a particularly hard song to sing, most likely because it dips between slightly awkward low notes, angelic cooing, and classic Neko belting. The number whizzed by without trouble, complete with awesome girl-group echoes of “Never turn your back.” The slow, Neko-and-her-guitar songs were particularly touching, with some fine slide guitar accompaniment for “I Wish I Was the Moon,” and my personal favorite “Vengeance Is Sleeping” opening the encore. Enjoying Middle Cyclone as much as I do, it being the focus of the evening was just dandy, though really, she’d sound good singing annoying commercial jingles or any bad pop.

Maybe Sparrow
Fever
Hold On
The Pharaohs
Middle Cyclone
Deep Red Bells
I Wish I Was The Moon
I’m An Animal
Prison Girls
The Tigers Have Spoken
Margaret Vs. Pauline
Red Tide
Don’t Forget Me
That Teenage Feeling
This Tornado Loves You

Vengeance Is Sleeping
Favorite
Magpie To The Morning
Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth
Knock Loud

The 10 Best Live Shows I’ve Ever Seen

Laura here, with a look back at some of my favorite concert experiences of all time. I don’t go to nearly as many shows as Liz, but I’ve seen a few in my day, and these are the ones that have stuck with me the most. Most of these took place in New York City unless otherwise indicated.


1. They Might Be Giants – I’ve seen TMBG perform three or four times, but my favorite concerts were their Flood show in 2000 (playing their album “Flood” in its entirety) and their show on New Year’s Eve of 2005. They always put on an amazing performance, with interesting instruments, hilarious gags, and improvised songs to give the fans something something different from what’s on the album.

2. Jonathan Richman – His drummer is from Tucson, where Liz and I hail from, so we’ve seen him perform there as well as in New York, at Town Hall. Since Town Hall is a bit cavernous compared to the intimate venues he visited at Tucson, I have to say I prefer the smaller shows. But no matter where he is, Jonathan Richman always delivers with an engaging sweetness that is rare indeed.

3. Previously on Lost – This up-and-coming band (sometimes called POL), formed by students at my alma mater New York University, is one of the best live bands around right now, in my opinion. They write a song for every episode of Lost (beginning in the fourth season, I believe), and although the recording is rather amateurish, the songs are actually really good. From “The Ballad of Sayid Jarrah” to “The Island Won’t Let You Die” to the awesomely-titled “Wherever Sun Go, I Go,” each song is more entertaining than the last, and the live show integrates mood-setting props (a fake plane that they crash, palm trees, toy polar bears, and tropical clothing) to complete the Lost experience. I bought their T-shirt, and I rarely buy band T-shirts anymore.

4. Radiohead – This one is a no-brainer if you know about my intense love for Radiohead, but even if I didn’t think they were the best band since sliced frozen pizza, I would still have enjoyed these shows. I saw them once at Coachella (the same year the Pixies played), which was incredible, and then had the good fortune to see them again at the Theater at Madison Square Garden a couple of years ago, which was also amazing. Even my boyfriend, who wasn’t as big a Radiohead fan as me, agreed that the last show was one of the best he’d ever been to. If only tickets didn’t cost as much as my student loan balance, I would go see Thom et al a lot more often.

5. Beck – Now this is back in the day I’m talking about. I wasn’t a big fan of his 2006 show when he toured around with marionettes and some obnoxious dancing guy, even though I guess other people found it to be pretty entertaining. No, I’m talking about 2000 or so, right after the release of Midnight Vultures. I saw him in Phoenix, and it was everything I as a starry-eyed Beck devotee could ask for. Weird stage props and costumes, plenty of dancing, jammy improvisation, and so much more. Oh, Beck, what happened? I also saw him at Coachella, by the way, but I was halfway dying from sunstroke and being crushed by the crowd, so it was a little less fun.

6. Misfits – I’m biased because this was the first concert I ever went to, back in the Tucson high school days, but boy was it a good time. I squished up to the very front with my boyfriend at the time, and we got all sweat-drenched as moshers slammed into us for hours (not to mention the fact that the band itself was rather fond of spraying torrents of sweat down onto the crowd). With the always-in-character band acting like they were from hell, skeletons emerging from coffins, rockin’ music you could barely understand, and all those devoted fans, I couldn’t help but get into the spirit. I always think about this show when I look sadly at how unenthusiastic most crowds are in New York these days.

7. The Flaming Lips – When a man gets into a giant inflatable gerbil ball and walks on the audience, you know you’re seeing something special. With all the balloons, synchronized singalong videos, and audience members being dragged up to the stage to play aliens and stuff, a Flaming Lips show is unmistakable. And  always a good time. The only time seeing them bummed me out was at Coachella; even though they put on an amazing show (utilizing the aforementioned gerbil ball), the entire set lasted about 5 minutes. Terribly unfair after all the waiting in the hot sun.

8. ZZ Top – This was just plain badass. Almost everyone else at the show was an aging biker type, and even if these grizzled fans hadn’t been continually passing around joints, we would’ve still enjoyed their company. The show itself was awesome, as could be expected, with the ‘Top playing all our favorite hits, and showing off their delightful stage presence (synchronized dancing, a multitude of costume changes, physical comedy, and of course, those beards). Although I have to say, I was waiting the whole time to see them spin their guitars, and they didn’t. But they did have furry guitars, so I guess it balances out.

9. Elliott Smith – It was really sad when Elliott Smith died, especially because it hadn’t been that long since I’d seen him live. I loved the hell out of him, so the concert was naturally awesome, even if he didn’t deviate from the album versions of his songs very much. He was drinking and smoking pretty much the entire time, which I guess shouldn’t have been a good sign, considering all his addiction troubles in the past. Rest in peace, Elliott.

10. Le Tigre – Even if you don’t like the whole Riot Grrrl genre, you have to appreciate Le Tigre’s dance-happy beats and catchy lyrics. Bikini Kill may have been a little more substantial, but I have a soft spot for Le Tigre because in college I saw them live with Cibo Matto, for $5 I think, and both bands put on great performances, even collaborating a bit. Years later, at Coachella, Liz and I decided to skip the overhyped and overcrowded The Cure performance and instead opted to eat gyros and see Le Tigre play on a smaller side stage. And you know what? It was way more entertaining than that “Friday I’m in Love” crap any day.

Honorable Mention: Peelander-Z, 77Boadrum (Boredoms), Si*Se’, Ween, Pink Martini, Sleater-Kinney, Pixies, David Byrne, and Green Day.