Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review -- Eleanor Friedberger, Hospitality @ The Garrison, Toronto (May 4, 2012)

Eleanor Friedbierger
  Eleanor Friedbierger: photo by Michael Ligon

Brooklyn came to Toronto at the beginning of May when Brooklyn-based artist Eleanor Friedbierger and opening band Hospitality played the Garrison. In fact the first time I'd seen both artists live was during a show at the Bowery Ballroom last year during CMJ when they comprised 2/3 of a bill headlined by indie rock supergroup Wild Flag. Given my fascination and love for NYC which I've only had the pleasure of visiting twice so far over the last few years, this second opportunity to see these artists live here at home would at the very least serve as a good reminder of my time in NYC last year.

Since I'd saw Hospitality live in NYC during CMJ last October the band have signed with Merge Records and released their debut self-titled full-length. As well, since CMJ last year the four-piece have played a few shows (as an opener) in Toronto which I did not make it to, but finally this time around I was able to make it. The band's sound is reminiscent of the breezy indie pop of which I'd so loved in the 90's, centering on the attractive vocals of Amber Papini. It was also the bass-guitar playing of Brian Betancourt which I noticed, less of a low-end rhythmic tool but more melodic and providing some interplay with the more dexterous guitar arrangements. As airy as Papini's vocals could be, she did flex her vocal muscles on a few songs, displaying a bit of grit and yelp, a punk influence perhaps which is not too surprising given this was the same lady wearing a Beastie Boys "Check Your Head" t-shirt during last year's show at the Bowery Ballroom. There was a definite appreciation for the band (even a song request) by the early crowd, as sparse as it was.

As this was an all-Brooklyn bill, I must also mention it was an all-Merge Records bill as well. After having been one half of The Fiery Furnaces for many years, Miss Friedberger quietly released her debut full-length entitled Last Summer on Merge in July of last year. I remembered loving her set at the Bowery Ballroom last year and had only picked up the vinyl album late last year and the buzz around her since last year has I've perceived been generally on the low-end. Although not elbow-to-elbow at the Garrison, it was a healthy turnout for Miss Friedberger, and by the vocal response there were some definite die-hards in the audience.

Eleanor's hipster, vintage retro-threads notwithstanding, her songs came off as a sincere homage to that late 70's / early 80's NYC music scene, flexing a pop sensibility with an edginess, whether musically or lyrically. Like a faded photograph, Friedberger's songs were imbued with a nostalgic quality. However simplistic a description, I imagined Patti Smith fronting Blondie with the grittiness of Television and Lou Reed thrown in for good measure. Shedding the idiosyncrasies of her work in The Fiery Furnaces which made them difficult listening at times, Friedberger has wholly embraced pop song craftsmanship. She and her band played a set that included selections off Last Summer plus a bunch of new songs. My favourite songs of the set included the bouncy "My Mistakes", the sparkling "Heaven" and the funkafied pop of "Roosevelt Island". Coming back for a three song encore, Eleanor played a few songs solo [even revising her lyrics on the spot to acknowledge a segment of the crowd to stop talking], and ended with her and the band playing a cover of Bob Dylan's "True Love Tends To Forget". So true love may tend to forget but I assure you a good show, as this was, you won't.

Photos: Eleanor Friedberger, Hospitality @ The Garrison, Toronto (May 4, 2012)

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