Monday, April 29, 2013

BAM's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry 2013, Closing Night April 27 w/Highlights Video

Striking a People Get Ready pose with Steven Reker afterwards

Upon arrival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the closing night of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, I headed up the escalator to the BAMcafé for a set by People Get Ready.  But after checking the schedule via overhead projector, I learned that the band had been bumped up into the Opera House space -- right time, wrong venue. This simply made me proud of the Brooklyn group, who I saw during the festival last year as well as a performance at New York Live Arts.  On this much larger stage as a six-piece, the band could better incorporate the choreographic embellishments to music by Steven Reker, who entered the stage with a microphone over his shoulder, dragging the chord. His solo singing introducing "A Squandering” quickly made way for a joyous group aesthetic, which incorporates movement as part of the music making.  Catchy tunes such as "Windy City" and "Uncanny" were punched up an extra notch with an unbridled percussion. I could have done without the guitar solo however, (it was slung over a dancer's shoulder and banged around) as both the sound and thought of injuring an instrument pained me.

Projected schedule for handy reference

The larger crowd for a Saturday night made it more difficult to skip back and forth between spaces, so I opted to stay put for rest of the night.  Another Brooklyn-based band, Here We Go Magic, was next up in the Opera House.  The quintet began with a slow instrumental jam that launched into one of my favorite songs, “Make Up Your Mind.”  Loose live jams built into wild crescendos of sound, as the orchestra pit began to fill with people from their seats.  A cover of Robert Wyatt’s “Just As You Are” brought an impassioned plea by singer Luke Temple and a weighty emotional response from the band.  The group ended their set with the frenetic energy of “How Do I Know?”

Matthew Hauk of Phosphorescent followed, opening up with the alt-country twang of “Terror In the Canyons (The Wounded Master).”  He asked everyone how they were doing, flaunting his Alabama roots in a Southern drawl and nodding his head with the answer that came in applause.  Hauk admitted to having a cold but his voice’s raw power was still in evidence and there was quite a back up band behind his own guitar: organ, piano, drums, bongos, and bass. “Song for Zula” did not disappoint as an anticipated highlight of the set. Hauk presented this tale of heartbreak with storytelling gestures while spotlights swirled on stage until it all plunged into darkness at the end.  “Ride On, Ride On” followed with a thumping pulse and Hauk’s blistering guitar solo.  Another dream sequence appeared with the floating harmonies of “Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)” before the charge of “A Charm/A Blade.”  Hauk introduced the band with the flourish of a ringmaster, addressing the audience “Ladies and Gentlemen” and allowing each member to shine before ending the set.

Dance Party!
TV on the Radio also rose to the occasion as the headliner for the night, playing old as well as some new songs.  Filling the stage with seven members with ample equipment, the band lit into a hyper version of “Halfway Home” to kick things into high gear.  Singer Tunde Adebimpe strutted the stage to engage the fans immediately, flailing his long limbs and keeping that sinewy body in constant motion.  Hits such as “Wolf Like Me,” “Second Song,” “Will Do,” and “Caffeinated Consciousness” were rolled out like shiny trophies, before making way for a Prince cover and some “fresh cuts” as Adebimpe called them.  The music rumbled through the Opera House like a subway train, as both fans and band worked up a sweat.

Since this year’s crowd skewed a bit older, I was wondering if the dance floor at the after party in the BAMcafé would be very crowded but not to worry.  Baio (as in Chris Baio, bass player for Vampire Weekend) kept the music flowing, pulsing beats echoing the twinkling lights in the arched windows.  Members of Here We Go Magic looked like they had been celebrating in earnest since their set – their casual stage look now a rumpled mess.  Also on the floor were both curators for the festival, Aaron and Bryce Dessner, dancing while receiving earfuls from various well wishers.  I hadn't spied them since they bounded into the lobby on opening night, after playing a few songs with The National for Jimmy Fallon's "Late Night" show.  It was nice to see that they could actually relax a little bit, with another Crossing Brooklyn Ferry in the books.  Highlights video as well as one of a favorite moment from the festival, Phosphorescent's "Song for Lula," below.

Friday, April 26, 2013

BAM's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry 2013, Opening Night April 25 w/Highlights Video

As I've mentioned before, I like to be on time if not early for concerts.  Maybe this harks back to my days in high school musicals, when cast and crew had an early call before a performance.  But it's still nice to get there and get things sorted, from tickets, coat check and that first drink.  Well it turns out David Byrne feels the same way, as he saddled up to the empty bar right next to me to order a beer in the BAMcafé before the first night of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.  I said hello and mentioned how I ran into him at last year and he said well sure, it was such a nice festival.  He pulled out a few of the pins with this logo out of a bowl and remarked how the bearded guy looked more like Karl Marx (it's supposed to reference Walt Whitman, as his poem inspired the Crossing Brooklyn Ferry name). He gamely put a few pins, providing a bit of color to his all white ensemble which made him easy to spot for the rest of the night, even in the darkened theaters.

With NYC's biggest music fan David Byrne
The solo piano of Timo Andres opened the three day event, with a poised selection of original and classical pieces. A fusion of Indian culture and jazz followed with Rudesh Mahanthappa's sax playing leading an ensemble through fiery improvisations.  It was then time for Porcelain Raft, who caught my attention last February, in the Howard Gilman Opera House.  Italian ex-pat Mauro Remiddi came out on stage with a guitar strapped on to his synth set up to launch into "Drifting In & Out." Remiddi may have been a lone presence on stage, but after starting loops and tripping beats, the music offered layers of sound to enjoy.  Less successful were simple tunes with guitar only, but the glorious acoustics in that space are always a treat. I ran into Remiddi out in the lobby later and asked why he did not play another favorite song, "Unless You Speak From My Heart." He confirmed what I surmised, that it did not translate well with a solo act, but he was honestly pleased that I had stopped him to say how much I loved his music.  

Paul Seymour -- Ready to Rock
Skipping between the next few shows was an interesting juxtaposition of Champagne Jerry, a send up of rap stars with video mash ups, and Julia Holter, a honest pure-at-heart songstress at her keyboards. I also caught a bit of Clare and the Reasons, a Brooklyn-based indie folk band in the BAMcafé, where the vocals were mixed at the same level as everything else, creating a muddled sound.  Maybe it was intentional, but I thought the singing could have soared above the instruments to great emotional heights. 

Another Brooklyn band, Parquet Courts, got some of the audience into the orchestra pit in the Opera House for a closer look at their youthful take on punk rock.  A wail of guitar distortion began the set, turning into a slow jam before the power chords began.  With strobe lights flashing, fast songs kept speeding up until a frenzy ensued and ballads could hardly called that.  The group presented a mix of old and new tunes, as "Stoned and Starving" provided an early highlight.  There was little banter beyond the announcement of the band's name and a request for "swirly lights."  In a particularly ironic moment, the band's slot was over before they could play another hit, "Borrowed Time."

With Mauro Remiddi
Opening night ended with a crazy energy thanks to The Roots, Philly's phenomenally talented hip hop/soul group (a.k.a Jimmy Fallon's house band).  Before the show, the orchestra pit and aisles were jammed with people and cheers greeted them as they entered the stage in darkness.  The eight-piece lit into their funky jams and all requests for "hands up" or various noise-making had the crowd responding right on cue. Familiar tunes such as "Jungle Boogie," "Sweet Child of Mine" and "The Immigrant Song" got The Roots treatment of rapid fire rapping with well-meaning expletives, tight grooves and extended improv sections.

As shining examples of the Tom Jackson's "On Stage Success" principles of performing in a band, members communicated non-stop with each other and the audience, trading places at the edge of the stage and even dancing together in a grapevine.  Fans were constantly asked how they were doing, as if every ecstatic response was simply not enough.  Questlove held court at the drum kit in back, a celebrity in his own right at BAM.  Virtuosity doesn't even begin to describe these musicians, and it's going to be great when they become a staple on the big stage of late night television as Jimmy Fallon takes over "The Tonight Show."  Photos and highlights video below.
Sean Yeaton of Parquet Courts
BAM lobby -- MERCH!
Brooklyn Brewery Tastings -- Did someone say FREE BEER??
The Roots
Black Thought of The Roots

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ready for 2013 Crossing Brooklyn Ferry @ BAM April 25 - 27

In preparation for this year's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, I wrote two posts for BAM's blog about some of the local bands scheduled to perform.  The first post focused on Phosphorescent and Parquet Courts, two bands featured on my Spring 2013 New Music Playlist.  I heard Phosphorescent's "Song for Zula" many times on The Alternate Side, KCRW and KEXP during this past week, as the heartache in the tune seemed to match the anguish over the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing manhunt that followed.  (For another amazing example of the healing power of music, check out the full video feed of Neil Diamond's appearance at Fenway Park to sing his "Sweet Caroline" with the Boston Red Sox fans last Saturday.)  Parquet Courts make a nice counterpoint, with an in-your-face life force that only young punk rock bands can deliver.  

The second post featured Here We Go Magic and People Get Ready.  In a sign that I really like a band, I  chose two songs by Here We Go Magic for my Summer 2012 New Music Playlist, "Make Up Your Mind" and "How Do I Know."  Both songs offer a playful attitude over an infectious beat, and I'm really looking forward to seeing them live. People Get Ready is making a return appearance -- I caught this energetic group last year in the BAM Café.  Their quirky indie pop crosses over into performance art during live gigs, as a piece at New York Live Arts was recently highlighted by NPR music.  

For full schedule and ticket info visit

Monday, April 15, 2013

New Song by Brazos "How the Ranks Was Won" Live vs. Official Video, NYC Tour Dates April 16, 23, 30 & May 7

Martin Crane (photo via Dead Oceans)

"How the Ranks Was Won" is a charming tune, almost disarming in its simplicity. There’s an appealing, quirky vibe embedded in the layers of instruments.  Martin Crane’s emotive vocals hover above it all, the songwriter communicating a personal journey both physically and emotionally.  Following a self-produced album in 2009, Phosphorescent Blues, he had found a lonely existence back in Austin after touring in support of the likes of Grizzly Bear, Vampire Weekend and The National.

"Most of my good friends had moved away from Austin," Crane recalls. "I was working at a phone bank and hanging out in bars a lot. I'd lost touch with the meaningful things."  In a search for “something new,” he packed everything he could into a 1990 Honda Civic wagon and moved to New York City, where the songs poured forth.  Crane wrote over 30 songs over two years, before heading into the studio with new bandmates Spencer Zahn on bass and drummer Ian Chang. 

"I think this record is about learning how to be alone. And I think that's how it's spiritual. You can't actually love anything if you need it. I think this record is an odyssey out into deep solitude in order to really get a grasp of myself."  The album, titled Saltwater, is due out May 28 through Dead Oceans. 

Below is a live video for “How the Ranks Was Won” featuring the band, along with the official one, which was written and directed by Crane.  Crane juxtaposes photos of urban living with cartoon characters and animated paintings spelling out deep-thought type questions such as “Does memory get better the older you get?” 

After returning to his hometown for shows during SXSW, the band is gearing up for a month-long residency at The Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg, April 16, 23, 30 and May 7.