Thursday, November 18, 2010

NYC & CMJ (October 22, 2010)

  Braids @ Cake Shop, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

Ok it's been about a month since coming back from my 5-day long stay in New York City and I still have a couple of days to cover, so I do apologize if these next few posts seem rushed, because well they are. Day four started out with me packing as I unfortunately I had to check out of the Jane Hotel as I was unable to book it for the next few nights, but before checking out I took it as an opportunity to stroll and bike around area which later I'd find out is called the Meatpacking District given its origins at the beginning of last century as home to 250 slaughterhouses and packing plants and nowadays gentrified with boutiques, restaurants, lounges and even an Apple Store. I also got to stroll through the High Line. Other areas of NYC explored this day included Washington Square Park and Greenwich Village, the Kimmel Center at NYU, the Broadway shopping district including the Strand Bookstore (which bills itself as "Home of 18 miles of New, Used, Rare and Out of Print Books"), Union Square (which itself has a history as a site of political activism and on this day the site of the "October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation") and then it was back to Brooklyn to take in part of the day show at the Knitting Factory. Later I'd trek back to the Jane Hotel to pick up my luggage, head over to the Chinatown hotel where I'd been staying for the next few nights, grab some Chinatown eats and then head out for night four of CMJ. And I stil had one more day/night of NYC/CMJ to do.

And at this point I guess I should run down my CMJ happenings on this day but I'll keep it brief since I really I don't have the strength to do do an in depth review. Back in Brooklyn late afternoon, my first stop was Knitting Factory to catch Diamond Rings' set, this being the second time I'd catch Jon live during CMJ. Without the technical difficulties which plagued him during his set at Cake Shop a few days earlier, it was a much more fluid but still brief set. Sporting a Toronto Blue Jay Cap this time around, Jon alternated between keyboards, and guitar, and occasionally busted some enthusiatic, spastic dance moves. Although, the response was appreciative in the spacious(compared to Cake Shop), though only partially filled venue, I still wished the crowd had shown a little more energy.

I decided to stick around for a few more acts, with local Knitting Factory roster band Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers up next. The least 'indie rock' of the bands / artists I saw during the festival, while there were signs of some fans in the crowd, they didn't seem to correct with much of the crowd. I'll admit they do possess some musical merits, especially in the full-throttled vocals of Ms. Shilpa Ray. Instrumentally, Ms. Ray's harmonium playing lays a foundation for the rest of the band who competently contributed guitar, drums and bass. Elements of blues, folk and rock weaved their way through the band's songs so I'm hard-pressed to really categorize them. They weren't really up my alley but if it means anything to you, Nick Cave is a fan, so much so that he invited her and her band to join his band Grinderman for a few recent tour dates. Toronto wasn't one of them, but Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers will be in Toronto in the new year for a set at El Mocambo on April 8 according to The Windish Agency.

With still a little light out this early evening in Brooklyn, I decided to stay for one more act at Knitting Factory which was Wisconsin's Cotton Jones. Forming the core of the band is Page France alum Michael Nau and Whitney McGraw. Nau's and McGraw's vocals melded nicely, with the latter's sweet vocals adding a nice contrast to the former's laidback drawl. The band did have a nice, rustic, indie-folk quality, embellishing their tunes with, instruments like banjo and glockenspiel. The band's current album "Tall Hours in the Glowstream" is out through Suicide Squeeze and the band will be in Toronto for a show at the Horseshoe Tavern on February 26 opening for Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea.

With the day's light now dissipating, I headed back into Manhattan to check in to my hotel in Chinatown, grab a quick bite and then head out again for the night portion of CMJ, which I kept decidely low-key (ie. no club hopping this night. I planted myself at Cake Shop for the night (which was hosting a showcase for local Williamsburg, Brooklyn indie record label Kanine Records), getting there before 10 pm and catching only a bit of Pepper Rabbit's set and would catch only two full sets for the rest of the night before calling it quits. Having multiple opportunities during the festival to catch Montreal's Braids and with nothing else that night really interesting me at that time, seeing Braids was a no-brainer. I hadn't heard a note of them prior to that show, but I was quite aware of how keen some of you are of them, so that was my primary motivation to check them out. Combining an experimental approach with more conventional pop and anthemic qualities, think a marriage between Bjork and Arcade Fire. Definitely on the artier side of my musical tastes - if they ever play The Music Gallery in Toronto, I am there. A video of one of the band's performances at Cake Shop during CMJ surfaced on YouTube - really good stuff. They will be playing Toronto in the new year at El Mocambo on February 19 and I very possibly will be there.

And rounding out the night for me was a shoegaze band from San Francisco called Young Prisms. A genre band to the hilt, as shoegaze bands (or bands for that matter) go, they weren't particularly innovative, but their dreaminess was effective nonetheless. Immersed onstage in light and shadow with a video projection playing out against the band for most of the show, these were particularly fitting visuals for the band's hazy, shoegazey, guitar-drenched, pop music. Similarly, the band's vocals, alternating usualy between band member Stefanie Hodapp bassist Giovanni Betteo, were buried beneath the sonic mix, contributing to the overall dreamy, hazy quality of the music. The perfect soundtrack to play in my head as I left the venue to wander the streets of NYC before heading back to my hotel for a good night's sleep.

Photos: NYC & CMJ (October 22, 2010)
MySpace: Diamond Rings
MySpace: Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers
MySpace: Cotton Jones
MySpace: Pepper Rabbit
MySpace: Braids
MySpace: Young Prisms

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Vaselines, Schwervon! @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (October 30, 2010)

  The Vaselines @ Horseshoe Tavern: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Nov 8/2010, 11:23 pm]: Review now up.

Connotations of sex dominated the Horseshoe Tavern last Saturday Night with ahem, The Vaselines, the night's headliners, and openers Schwervon! whose band name I'm not aware of its meaning but for all I know could mean something totally dirty. Scottish indiepoppers The Vaselines were in town promoting their new Sub Pop full-length Sex With An X, an album title already keeping consistent with the night's theme.

To be more accurate, it wasn't so much the night's music that was sexually charged as it was the humourous banter from both acts. Due to a family emergency of Dum Dum Girls' frontwoman Dee Dee her band had to cancel some dates including their opening slot for this show, so this is where New York band Schwervon! stepped in. Not as lovey-dovey onstage as the only other husband-and-wife indie rock duo I can think of, Mates of State, Schwervon!'s Nan Turner on drums/vocals and Major Matt on guitar/vocals there was still a cuteness factor to it, especially when Turner stated that her and Major were a couple, as if it was something we should know. It was Nan that kept up the spontaneous banter, with a bit of a nervousness behind it but ultimately endearing, and sometimes funny when she mentioned that they slept with openers The Vaselines the night before. Schwervon! played a decent brand of garage pop with harmonized vocals, for the most part not so serious especially lyrically such as when they sang a song about love and food/cooking. They're definitely of the ilk of indie rock as I remembered it in the 90's ... very D.I.Y., not necessarily instrumentally accomplished but with definitely, or at least occasionally knack for some good songs. Not that indie rock these days is bad, in fact it's very good at times, but it seems today's indie rock is so much more serious.

The first and only time I'd previously seen The Vaselines live was at last year's Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona. Playing a set that was primarily focused on their 'classic' material but also touching on the new album, I remember it being infectious and fun, and full of witty banter. In retrospect also, thinking of The Vaselines also just reminds me the dynamite city of Barcelona that I was in for over a week last year. Last year's set at Barcelona had The Vaselines' original members Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee but was also made extra special as their hired guns for the show were Sons and Daughters' drummer David Gow and Belle and Sebastian's Stevie Jackson and Bobby Kildea on lead and rhythm guitar(or was it bass?) respectively. For last week's set at the Horseshoe, Eugene and Frances were joined by two unknown indivudals to me on bass and lead guitar. Having only been casually aware of their 'classic' material, my impressions of the new material are that they don't differ too much sonically though I will say that live the band come off far more livelier and punchier than on record. I'm one of those fans that want to hear the recognizable material, although I won't necessarily vocalize it unless it feels appropriate, but I was glad to hear tracks like "Molly's Lips", "Son of a Gun", and "Jesus Don't Want Me For a Sunbeam".

Like last year's set at Primavera, one of the most memorable things about last week's show was The Vaselines' Frances McKee totally hilarious and at-times, sexually charged banter. She reminded me of actress Alyson Hannigan's character in American Pie...someone ordinary looking although cute enough but surprisingly a total horndog. If you were a first-timer to a Vaselines show, I'd imagine you'd never guess that Frances' banter would have included topics such as erections or sperm as skin care(yes, you read that last one correctly, even if Frances did not state in so many words)...those two topics should pull in some unsuspecting and ultimately disappointed Google'rs to my site. Ha. Playing off a comment made by Schwervon's Nan Turner earlier who said she and husband had slept with The Vaselines the night before, The Vaselines Frances McKee innocently expressed that yes they love them, then devilishly and cheekily added something along the lines that the bed's was gonna get moist that night. Elton John wrote "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" but if The Vaselines were to rewrite it they'd probably change the word 'fighting' to 'fucking'. And on that note, I'll just end this and say it was a good show for a Saturday night.

Photos: The Vaselines, Schwervon! @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (October 30, 2010)
MySpace: Schwervon!
MySpace: The Vaselines

Music Vice has a review and photos from the show as well as the set list.

Also here's some video from the show courtesy of afternoonsnacks.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

NYC & CMJ (October 21, 2010)

  No Joy @ Knitting Factory, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Nov 5/2010, 12:18 am]: Review now up for day 3 of my NYC and CMJ trip. Day 4 and 5 still to come and apologies for the delay.

Day three of five in NYC started out on a bit of a goose chase with me planning on checking out the the vinyl records overflowing thrift store The Thing. The only problem was that after googling its Manhattan Ave address I inadvertently pulled up the Manhattan Ave address in Harlem just south of 125th Ave not realizing that the Manhattan Ave I wanted was actually in Brooklyn. So while in Harlem I strolled along 125th Ave taking in some of the sights like Apollo Theater, and the Adam Clayton Powell State Building Plaza, checking out H & M, buying counterfeit Casio G-Shock watch on the street for $10, and stumbling upon some street art just south of 125th Ave which looked like a Banksy but apparently isn't. Subsequently I did venture out into Brooklyn and found The Thing and while there is a tremendous amount of vinyl in it, a lot of it was inaccessible, dusty and or damaged, nothing was in order, and much of it was garbage - still worth it just to see that much vinyl in one thrift store. Quaint part of town Manhattan Ave was as I hopped on the bus to explore the street by transit rather than foot and ended up getting off at a stop near McCarren Park[I didn't see the pool though] before getting back to the subway to catch the L train back to Manhattan. Time to hit a day show.

While I was running a bit late, I was fortunate that the NYCTaper CMJ Day Party at Cake Shop in the Lower East Side was running a little off schedule and therefore I was able to get to the venue before Toronto's own Diamond Rings started his set. On the other hand, because things were running late, apparently due to some technical difficulties with Mr. O'Regan setting up his equipment, he only got to perform four songs[which NYCTaper recorded the set and is offering for download]. A surprisingly full crown was on-hand for the day set and the all-too brief set went over well, but it would not be the last time I saw him during CMJ.

Cake Shop is located on Ludlow St. in Lower East Side, with a variely of restaurants, shops, bars and venues nestled in this hip neighbourhood and as such, another venue Pianos which I wanted to visit was only steps down the street from Cake Shop. Next up on the agenda was to catch Silver Lake, California pysch pop trio Pepper Rabbit at Pianos playing the second floor stage of the I Guess I'm Floating CMJ Day Party. Half the time I hear the term 'psych-pop' and I'm hoping it's not too dated-sounding, but thankfully Pepper Rabbit weren't of that ilk, instead reminding of a band like The Shins who play pop music that's at least subtlely infused with psychedlic or folkier elements. Pepper Rabbit utilized drums, keyboards, and bass and at times used ukelele and clarinet. The band had apparently played Toronto at The Drake Underground earlier in October so I hope to catch them if and when they come back to town.

It was time to start the evening portion of the evening which meant back to Brooklyn for me to catch No Joy at the Knitting Factory where the band would be kicking off the Brooklyn indie record label, Mexican Summer, showcase. This 200-person capacity venue at once felt spacious and intimate. Spacious it was prior to No Joy kicking off their set because there weren't that many people there yet, but it filled up just a tad by the time the band quickly strolled onto the stage and launched into their setlist. Bathed in blue light, No Joy's Jasmine White-Gluz and Laura Lloyd were joined by two guys on drums and bass respectively, and proceeded into a set of tunes which have been described as 'doomgaze', merging the hazey, melodic sensibilities of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine with perhaps a tad sludgier touch. The vocals were virtually buried beyond recognition and while I could discern the vocals enough I wished they'd push the vocals higher up into the mix. It was a set made for earplugs which I thankfully had and I'm looking forward to catching them live another time, the soonest opportunity which will be November 17 in Toronto at Parts & Labor. I haven't been to that venue yet but I've heard it's small.

The walk from Knitting Factory to my next stop Music Hall of Williamsburg(for a CMJ Brooklyn Vegan showcase) turned out not to be too bad nor long, and although I'd been on my feet for much of the last few days, I soldiered on and got to the venue as Montreal outfit Suuns were already a little into their set. Previously known as Zeroes, a band I'd first seen live at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto in January 2009, I honestly don't remember what they sounded like back then although I'm reminded after reading my old review that the band reminded me of Clinic. That's probably not an accurate comparison but in any case Suuns do seems to have a somewhat proggrish approach to their indie rock, with melodies not quite so obvious, occasionally droning keyboards, a rhythmic quality, and a bit of discordance at times. The band's most recent album "Zeroes QC" was released through Secretly Canadian.

Jersey's Screaming Females were up next and seemed to be the first act that the crowd were really interested in seeing. The band name is somewhat of a misnomer given that the trio only features one female but at least that female is the frontperson, the pint-sized Marissa Paternoster on guitar and vocals. Marissa was a double threat proving the band's name in spades as her somewhat Janis Joplin-esque vocals assaulted the audience while at the same time Marissa shredded licks on her guitar. Musically, there was a little bit of a riot-grrl influence mixed with some garage-y punk attitude but there were also poppier moments as well. Of all the bands of the night they(well Marissa) definitely gave the best photo opps with her expressive, explosive vocals.

The Blow were up next. Previously a duo but now only featuring vocalist Khaela Maricich, I'd heard very little of this project's music in the past but was quickly won over by the minimalist beats and girlpop vocals. With a good arsenal of playful tunes, several which were as Khaela described were about her experience with a one unnamed lesbian Hollywood celebrity (which many of us had guessed was Lindsay Lohan although Khaela confirmed it with us), khaela danced around somewhat ironically, bantered humourously with the audience and ultimately won us over with her songs. I was particularly fond of the lilting "Come On Petunia" and the way she integrated part of The Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" into it. A very entertaining set in deed, if not for the music, but at least for her humourous, storytelling. The Blow will be in Toronto for a show at the Horseshoe on November 17 so check it out, which I may just do again.

Rounding out the showcase was Brooklyn's own Pains of Being Pure At Heart. It's been almost 14 months since I'd last seen them live when they played the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on September 7, 2009. Simply, the band excel in what they do which is sublime guy/girl sung indie pop such as the most excellent "Young Adult Friction" which is very well the best indiepop song of the last 10 years. Outside of that, the band don't have much presence although as a guy I must comment that lone female member keyboardist Peggy Wang has an infectious smile and is cute as a button. As difficult it might have been to get anyone to dance, I must say that Pains Of Being Pure At Heart definitely got the audience to at least crack a smile.

Brooklyn Vegan covered its own showcase and has two photosets to share.

Photos: NYC & CMJ (October 21, 2010)
MySpace: Diamond Rings
MySpace: Pepper Rabbit
MySpace: No Joy
MySpace: Suuns
MySpace: Screaming Females
MySpace: The Blow
MySpace: Pains of Being Pure at Heart