Thursday, May 31, 2007

Paging Steve Sanders!

Totally bitchin', man!

The National @Bowery Ballroom, May 30th

The first time I saw The National was as a headliner at the Mercury Lounge almost two years ago. My memory of that night is hazy, as they did not go on till after midnight as the Mercury is notoriously bad about following set times, and I got pretty smashed leading up to them hitting the stage. More recently, I saw The National play twice just a few weeks ago when I saw them open for Arcade Fire, and it was a great preview of what to expect from their upcoming five night stint at the Bowery. While a few weeks ago the focus was on the Canadians, last night belonged to The National.

When I saw them at United Palace on May 7th, the sound mix seemed ill-suited for lead singer Matt Berninger's subtle but powerful baritone. Then, at Radio City they sounded fantastic and filled the venue with their music quite nicely, but the stage was too large for it to be considered an intimate affair, and the audience trickled in during the set, not realizing what a great opener they were missing. Finally, tho, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Bowery seemed just right. The floor was packed to the gills, which made manoeuvering a little difficult, but really, at the Bowery, there's not a bad spot to be found.

Notice the absence of any pics or vids of the show for this post. (For a comprehensive review with pics, head over to The Music Slut.) Last night I did something I hadn't done in a while; I left my camera in my bag and allowed myself to enjoy the evening without any concerns about where to stand or how to fiddle with camera settings. Perhaps I needed a breather after two consecutive nights of Bright Eyes.

Whatever the reasons, it was a refreshing change in pace. After I said hello to Music Slut Matt, who had situated himself up front and center, I made my way to the side on the wall by one of the stairwells, where it was more comfortable, and like I said, the acoustics are good all around.

The guys sounded amazing. Musically, their sound reminds me of a less morose Interpol (who I'm excited to be seeing next week at the Bowery too) -- that soaring sound that builds upon itself with layers created by the different instruments, but also more intricate. The National seem like a regular bunch of guys with no agenda other than to make beautiful moody music. And the lead singer is quirky enough without trying too hard. At one point, someone in the audience yelled "Stop breaking stuff!" cos he kept tripping or knocking things over as he swayed around the stage, and he laughed and even seemed slightly embarassed. "I'll try!" he sheepishly retorted.

The highlight of the evening had to be during "Abel" when Berninger slowly made his way across the stage, untangling his mic cord, and climbed from the stage onto the pile of gear in the corner on the floor, and then down into the crowd. I've witnessed singers do the let me come down and hang with you common folk thing numerous times, but for once it didn't feel contrived or have the air of Look at me! I'm a rock star!

I am almost tempted to grab a ticket for Friday's show, but I think I will stop at three gigs in a row for this week. I've already circled August 17th on my calendar, however.


I did arrive in time for most of the set by opener My Brightest Diamond, but after what sounded like a promising start, I quickly retreated to the lounge in the lower level. I no patience for Shara Worden's vocals, which was comparable to whale mating calls. I had heard a snippet of her stuff before the show, so when Wawa asked if he should bother coming early for her, knowing his tastes, I described the bit that I heard as sounding like she had swallowed a flute and was being strangled. Sadly, I don't think I was too far off. I do give her points, however, for using the kalimba...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bright Eyes @Town Hall, May 29th

Hell, I just saw Bright Eyes last night. What else can I say? First, sitting in the front row can make a world of difference!

Tonight's special guests were The Little Willies featuring Norah Jones. I had seen them before at the very same venue, opening for Ryan Adams.

The Little Willies and Conor sang "We Are Nowhere, and It's Now":

I quite liked it when Conor knocked over his mic stand and decided to lie on the floor and sing into it and play the guitar, rather than picking it up.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings opened again. Rawlings is quite the virtuoso on his Stradivarius-looking guitar.

They all joined the stage again for various encores.

Perhaps the key to tonight's success was the ensemble cover of Neil Young's "Helpless" -- always a crowd-pleaser:

And being at the front also means getting the setlist is pretty much a given...

Thanks, Easter Bunny! Bwok bwok!

PS -- Spotted Craig Wedren in the crowd. We saw him open for Bright Eyes in March.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bright Eyes @Town Hall, May 28th


Caught Bright Eyes last night at Town Hall for the 3rd night of their sold out seven night run. I had great 5th row dead center seats from the presale. I loved their show at the Bowery in March, which compelled me to buy these tickets, but tonight I was not so blown away. Maybe it's the superiority of Bowery in terms of size, intimacy and acoustics, the fact that we were seated versus standing...I dunno. I wasn't feeling it as much despite seeing the lovely Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney on drums.


Openers Gillian Welch and David Rawlings did knock me outta my boots, tho. I hadn't heard that much from Gillian aside from her occasional appearance on compilations or her stellar cover of Radiohead's "Black Star," so it was serendipitous that on Saturday I passed by a stoop sale and picked up a used copy of her debut album, Revival, for 33¢. The fact that they opened with the lead track "Orphan Girl" from that cd really made me pleased as punch. The two of them held the crowd in their quiet acoustic way with beautiful, honest music. They finished strong with a rousing cover of Johnny Cash's "Jackson."


The evening was not without its highlights, however. As promised, Conor did have a special guest come on stage, and perhaps he read my mind and saw my Rilo Kiley t-shirt, cos I screamed with the best of them for my girl crush, Jenny Lewis. They played "Melt Your Heart":

Here's a picture of Jenny with her boytoy, Johnathan Rice, who also played a few songs:


David and Gillian also joined Conor on stage for some encores, including a great sounding "Lua" for which Gillian even sang some lines.

Yeah, so back to Conor & Co. I still think he's worthwhile seeing live, but kinda like with Sufjan, I can only listen to him in limited doses. There's only so much of that warbly voice and slight air of douchebaggery that I can take. But who knows what I'm talking about; I have front row seats for tonight!

PS -- Julie1 and I sat in front of Dan Murphy of Soul Asylum, which made Wawa jealous.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn

A pal of mine from kung fu, Billy Nemec, is the lead singer of a fun little band called The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn. They're often found on sunny days playing around the City in places like Central Park or on West Broadway in Soho, where I caught them this past weekend. They gig frequently at various fine dining establishments. Billy often also plays on the subway platform in Williamsburg.

They're a sweet little band that plays old school jazz ditties -- think Django Reinhardt or the Triplets of Belleville. You can hear samples of their music on their MySpace page, which I've linked above.

Anyway, as picked up by Gothamist earlier this week, The Blue Vipers are one of a few contestants on Channel 5's The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet. Subway Idol is a competition not unlike American Idol wherein each week the contestants survive based on total votes for that week's performance, and the contestant with the lowest vote total is dismissed. There are currently three groups left, and you can see their performances including that of The Blue Vipers here.

If you like what you've heard, vote for The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn by sending an email every week until May 23rd, when the winner will be announced, to (with BlueVipers in the subject line). Thanks!

Update 5/23: Yay! The Blue Vipers won!

Arcade Fire @Radio City Music Hall, May 9th

Apparently, Monday was not enough.

I was lucky enough to pick up a great single yesterday on Ticketbastard -- exactly one row behind where I sat for Björk one week ago. Radio City Music Hall, while less intimate, has superior acoustics, and the larger crowd supplied the energy.

I love how, much like in a play, the musicians in Arcade Fire who are not Win and Regine manage to infuse their own personalities and presence into the overall performance. Watch some of the guys in "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" -- friggin' hysterical!

Happily, they closed out their magical 3 night run with "Wake Up":

Even the National sounded fantastic -- I could actually hear the vocals tonight. Here's a song from their last album, Alligator, called "Mr. November":

And now the magic's all done. *Sigh!*

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Arcade Fire @United Palace, May 7th

Over two years ago at Webster Hall, I received my first communion with Arcade Fire. Since that night, I have trod a path filled with many nights of good and not so good music. Tonight, my faith in exemplary live music was restored. Tonight, at Reverend Ike's United Palace, we got the gospel according to Win Butler, Regine Chassagne & Co. as they played to a crowd that made little use of their assigned seats. People streamed down the aisles hoping to catch a better glimpse of the mighty little Canadian ensemble that could bring one to tears. Many were willing to sell their souls for an opportunity to hear the electrifying Arcade Fire, and the band did not disappoint.

For about ninety minutes, we bore witness to music that made us rise to our feet and stomp and clap in unison. We sang along and made the air buzz with a joy that is rarely felt at concerts. We loved the new songs from Neon Bible but devoured the stuff from Funeral. When Win jumped into the crowd for "Rebellion (Lies)" as seen below, if he had walked straight down the center aisle and out the doors of the theatre, he could have easily had a few thousand people following him through the streets of Washington Heights.

So friggin' awesome! I am inspired to search for tickets to Wednesday's show at Radio City now.

PS -- Spotted Martha Plimpton of Goonies fame sitting about 5 rows behind me. Thrilling!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Björk @Radio City Music Hall, May 2nd


In one of my favorite movies, "Annie Hall," there's a scene where Shelley Duvall's character, after seeing the Maharishi on a date with Alvy, calls the experience "transplendent" -- a made up word. After seeing Björk tonight, I too was inspired to make up a few words. Lumescent. Giddifying. And, this one I borrow from Whitney, who accompanied me -- woooohahahaooaooaoaoaoaodhfaskdjf;dlakjf;lkdsjfa!


Words alone cannot describe what a dynamo she is. Whitney and I both loved the child-like glee and exuberance with which Björk entertained us for the approximately 75 minutes she was on stage. The set featured a good mix of older hits and many from her upcoming release, Volta. She danced around in gold leggings and bare feet while her powerful voice soared and filled all of Radio City Music Hall very easily.


While much of her music can be quite delicate and moody, she got the crowd dancing a number of times for the beat heavy songs "Innocence" and "Declare Independence" from the new album, and my personal favorite oldie, "Army of Me" for which tons of green laser beams shot down onto the stage and throughout the venue. Perhaps the highlight of the evening, however, was when Antony Hegarty joined her on stage for their duet, "Dull Flame of Desire":

Absolutely stunning! What a thrill! If the ticket were not so cost-prohibitive, you'd definitely find me at her other shows in the coming days...