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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

Nick Lowe strode across stage. At 63, he looks different than his younger self: thick-frame glasses and sculpted white hair give him an older, cartoonish appearance in comparison to his long-hair, bug-eyed days of the ’70s and ’80s. He is an acoustic-guitar man now with a classic sunburst model slung over his shoulder from beginning to end. And last night at Town Hall, it began with “Stoplight Roses,” a song from the new record, The Old Magic, that Lowe is keen to promote. “Quality entertainment is what we’re here to bring,” said Lowe. His pitch included mentioning being “on the radio and indeed the television” and optimistically stating, “record sales are up” since the start of the tour. It is delivered with a wink and a nod—the way Lowe usually tosses off subtle humor and pastiche candor.

But, aside from his joking, Lowe looked particularly pleased and suited for the Town Hall stage. He was quick to note the iconic significance of the venue and, with an acknowledging sweep of his hand, often took in the rows and tiers of audience members. It was a seasoned showman move of which he has many: big smiles, waves and witty banter. He was attentive to the crowd the way a talented dinner-party host makes everyone feel welcome. And mixing in “Cruel to Be Kind” and “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” with new songs, he managed expectations, giving fans what they wanted as well as what they might like. For Lowe, it’s been a long musical journey, but there are no signs of stopping. As long as stages will have him, he aims to perform.

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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

SBTRKT isn’t interested in the question of identity. He avoids it all together. A semicircular tribal mask covers the top half of his face, protruding forward. It shifts in relation to the movements of his head. It’s a layer of protection, although seemingly unnecessary. The name is actually the alias of UK producer Aaron Jerome. He explained last night at Webster Hall that the mask and the anonymity of the pseudonym are used because “I’d rather not talk about myself as a person, and let the music speak for itself.” Which is what he did, and in the process proved that SBTRKT belongs in the company of electronic music’s most acclaimed artists.

The music speaks with immediacy, but it’s not as easily categorized. On his eponymously titled debut, the songs touch on a number of genres: electronic, dubstep, soul and house. But when played live, the distinctions are meaningless. With the assistance of frequent collaborator Sampha, the two splayed the album onto the crowd. Jerome was constantly in motion—programming, adjusting and, presumably, improvising sections of electronic layers. He also added live drumming. Snare hits skittered across a broad pond of bass. Sampha’s voice, somewhere between James Blake’s without the puberty cracks and Antony’s without the pomp, wailed from below the depths. It felt natural until you realized that each sound filtered through many 1’s and 0’s and heavy amplification.

But the strength of the performance was in the immediacy of the arrangements. From show and album opener “Heatwave” to Sampha’s strong offerings of “Something Goes Right” and “Trials of the Past,” each song felt denser while remaining as approachable and fundamentally the same. Sampha rhetorically asked, “What would you like to hear?” midway through the set. The crowd responded in full, with multiple answers leading to auditory mush. The pair ended up playing a remix of “Wildfire” featuring Drake. This seemed to be the right answer. But SBTRKT’s choices, questionable as they may be, all seem to be the right answer, for himself and for his fans.

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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert is the self-proclaimed inventor of reggae. As the story goes, his 1968 recording of “Do the Reggay” is among the first songs to use the word and classify the style of music. But regardless of whether he is the genre’s rightful originator, he is certainly one of its oldest and most successful practitioners. At 66, Hibbert is still creating and performing to critical acclaim and large audiences. And on Sunday night at Brooklyn Bowl, Toots and the Maytalsplayed with relentless energy to a sold-out crowd.

The set opened with Hibbert’s widely known “Pressure Drop.” In the years since appearing on the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, the song continues to stay in the public consciousness, with second life from covers by the Clash and other artists. For this show, the band’s straight-up midtempo performance established a solid foundation to build on. And as the group sped up and extended such hits as “Funky Kingston” and a “Louie Louie” cover, the crowd willingly followed suit, dancing and yelling with each call and response.

Throughout the show Hibbert stayed attentive to the band and the audience. “I have a big voice,” he told all, supporting the claim for close to two hours, closing with the semi-autobiographical crowd-favorite “54-46 (That’s My Number).” At the “Give it to me” part, Hibbert improvised and asked the crowd to “Give it to me 13 times.” After approximately thirteen responses of “Hey,” he responded with genuine surprise, “No one has ever done that,” he said. But as long as Toots Hibbert continues to perform, this record is sure to be broken: If he gives it to us, we’ll give it to him.

Photos courtesy of JC McIlwaine | jcmcilwaine.com

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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

There are two types of bands, those that focus on recording and those that focus on live shows. It is the rare exception when both are an active priority, but Dr. Dog appears to strive for overall excellence. Last month the band released its sixth album, Be the Void. As is the case with previous discs, the consistent output contains kernels of pop brilliance: rock that extends the Beatles’ signature sound. The next step was to test the material on the road, and on Friday night, Dr. Dog stopped at Terminal 5 to work out new songs and revisit old ones in front of a sold-out crowd.

The set’s first two songs mirrored the new album’s first two, “Lonesome” and “That Old Black Hole.” Apropos of the band’s established formula, bassist Toby Leaman sang the first song while lead guitarist Scott McMicken sang the second. The trade off and interplay between vocalists is one of Dr. Dog’s more unique and compelling aspects. Leaman’s style is gruff and labored. He chugs through songs with physicality and maximum effort. Contrastingly, McMicken’s voice is brittle yet sweet. During a jubilant performance of “Shadow People,” the crowd pushed with its collective weight to hold up his relentless plea, “Where did all the shadow people go?”

The shadow people are unaccounted for, but the people who came on Friday night made themselves known. Many of those in attendance held on to secret (and not so secret) desires for favorite songs like a hopeful lottery-ticket holder. And the encore performance of “Heart It Races” looked to be a winner for many. But Dr. Dog possesses a deep catalog and most songs seemed to connect with the diverse audience.

Photos courtesy of Ahron R. Foster | ahronfoster.com

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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

More and more the dance floor is becoming the preeminent destination for popular musical. In 2011, an expanding set of DJs pushed electronic, techno and the elusively defined dubstep to the top of charts and lineups. Hoards of underage high school students and slightly older college students pack venues, displaying their enthusiasm with neon shirts and multiple glow sticks. If it is a trend, it is a potent one. But, if it is a sea change, then it’s worth following the best of the bunch. And, currently, two Frenchmen literally stand above of the rest: Justice.

On Friday night at Terminal 5, Justice positioned themselves well above the crowd. The two members of the group, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, stood on an elevated platform with their signature cross glowing below. Marshall stacks towered on either side and sandwiched the two. The stage display reinforced their already intimidating position in modern dance music: They are a top-bill act and they know it.

Daft Punk, Justice’s predecessor and closest counterpart, is too elusive to maintain steady devotion. While that band’s legendary concerts and strong material make them must-see worthy, Justice actually can be seen. And for those who made it out on Friday night, the duo’s set aimed to capitalize on their burgeoning classics. New single “Civilization” seemed to lurk around every transition. “We Are Your Friends,” the repurposed fragments of Simian’s song of the same name, came in the encore, the place where everyone expected and craved it to be. So, while there are plenty of DJs to follow, the smart money is on seeing Justice. Catch them while you can.

Photo courtesy of Brian C. Reilly | www.briancreilly.com

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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

We didn’t know what to expect. How could we? Last night was New Build’s first show in the US. But the facts were promising: assorted members of Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem playing in a side project at Mercury Lounge, the venue to catch acts with potential. If there was a time to see them, it was now. But what were we to see? The first surprise of the night came in the form of Reverend John Wilkins, a head-scratching yet excellent opener. New Build frontman Al Doyle later revealed the choice was as much about picking someone he wanted to hear as it was about proper billing. Regardless, Wilkins’s charismatic take on blues and gospel endeared him to the crowd and raised the collective mood. By the end of his set, a request for “foot stomping and hand clapping” seemed unnecessary because we were doing it all along.

Between sets it was quiet—not silent, but without house music playing in the background, the transition felt abrupt. The seven touring members of New Build eventually walked onstage to clusters of applause. Doyle, at first visibly nervous, made a passing remark about the peculiar entrance. The awkwardness hung in the air briefly, and then disappeared completely as the band’s percussionists began to play. Over the course of an hour-long set, New Build filled the cozy room with layers of rhythm and sonic texture.

At times, the sound felt like drinking a thick shake through a narrow straw: delicious yet incrementally satisfying. But New Build’s forthcoming album is a basket of treats. The first single, “Do You Not Feel Loved,” pulsed and swelled with calculated intent for the dance floor, while “Medication” was as Doyle described it, “a short poppy number.” The variety of sounds seemed natural for a band finding its footing. These are seasoned musicians, but this is new and a risk. Thankfully, they were as good as their lineage suggested. Truthfully, they were better. The bar is set high for concerts this year.


Photo courtesy of Mina K

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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

Sharon Van Etten looks different. She doesn’t usually wear dresses. And especially not heels. All her tattoos are visible: Two bold lines wrap around the flesh of her left forearm, a bird sits near her right biceps and a guitar’s sound hole and strings are on the tracks of her veins. In other words, she is exposed. But exposure is central to Van Etten’s music. Many singer-songwriters tap into heartbreak as a resource for material. Few, however, do it as effectively as she. With emotional honesty, beautiful counterpoint harmonies and simple, catchy melodies, Van Etten takes the individual experience of lost love and makes it accessible. Pain pop.

The crowd was especially receptive at The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday, perhaps because it was the singer’s 31st birthday. Her family was in the audience and made it known, shouting encouragement in between songs. Van Etten kindly responded, half embarrassed and half pleased to have material for stage banter. Because impromptu speaking doesn’t come easy to her and there are tense silences—but her kind ethos made up for it. She is, simply, charming.

Congeniality is important when playing songs with such emotional heft. You don’t want people to get the wrong idea when singing, “Serpents in my mind, looking for your crimes.” The songs may be dark, but goodness permeates Van Eetten’s demeanor. The Antlers gave her a giant balloon man made out of balloons for her birthday and she proudly displays it onstage. She is confident; more confident than earlier concerts and albums. She looks different. She sounds great.

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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy predicted the current state of electronic dance music. On the 2002 single “Losing My Edge,” he lamented, “I’m losing my edge to the kids whose footsteps I hear when they get on the decks.” Those kids pack venues. Those kids are young—very young. Nicolas Jaar, 22, is the latest wunderkind. His 2011 album, Space Is Only Noise, introduced audiences to a unique electronic approach: the introspection of Pink Floyd and the modern dubstep of James Blake.

But Jaar is also a phenom of the dance floor. Multiple remixes and a history of international club performances point to an interest in party-making as well as headphone music. And the former was the focus of his sold-out performance at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday. While Jaar opened with atmospheric sounds and a gloomy visualizer to match, he eventually increased the tempo to a danceable clip. The crowd’s appreciation confirmed his commitment to Friday-night music over Sunday-night ambience.

With a firm control of pace, Jaar incorporated an improvisational element, adding keyboard flourishes and his baritone vocals. The effect was greatest when he invited collaborators Will Epstein and Dave Harrington onstage to play saxophone and guitar, respectively. On the best-of-show “Space Is Only Noise If You Can See,” Epstein’s twangy guitar skittered in great juxtaposition to Jaar’s huge bass drops. The kids are better than all right. They are the best around.

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Mornin’ Playtonics,

It’s a new year, but I’m still up to my old ways. For those of you who don’t know, in addition to writing semi-daily for Playtonic Dialogues, I am also a contributing photographer and writer for The Bowery Presents The House List. Since moving to New York, I have written reviews for Animal Collective and Arcade Fire, as well as many other concerts produced at all New York venues currently booked by The Bowery Presents, including the Mercury Lounge, the Bowery Ballroom, Webster Hall, the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Terminal 5, the Brooklyn Bowl, and more… Next month I will be contributing reviews for the following shows:

2/3: Nicolas Jaar @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

2/17: Saul Williams @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

2/25: Sharon Van Etten @ Bowery Ballroom

Look out for my reviews and photos which will be on The Bowery Presents The House List as well as this site.

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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

The band played in relative darkness, with a screen projecting shimmering gold dots providing the only light onstage. And, against the background, they looked like backlit shadows. The figures created sound, but their performance couldn’t be seen—all the better for Cass McCombs. The reportedly elusive singer-songwriter delivered his literal and personal lyrics with as much anonymity as possible.

Camera flashes provided brief glimpses of the frontman, but on the whole, his voice came from a silhouette. He sang about creatures and passwords written on sticky notes similar to Charlie delivering secrets to his angels. The audience listened attentively for instruction and information. And, for his part, McCombs was a purveyor of both.

During such upbeat numbers as the opener, “Love Thine Enemy,” McCombs tossed off aphorisms and advice. But the tone shifted mostly to midtempo country and folk. The comfortably laid-back sound, pervasive in the current indie-music scene, sounded effortless coming from McCombs and company. It is, after all, his signature. So when they finished with the 2011 lauded single “County Line” and left the stage, the lights immediately came back on. No needs to hide once you’ve left the stage.

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