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Archive for August, 2012

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

One day last winter I discovered White Denim’s Last Day of Summer. I took to it immediately. It compelled me toward multiple replays and consumed my ears’ desires. But I felt a strange sense of guilt about only listening to this one band and a single album
for three straight months. What is it that made Last Day of Summerso appealing? Last night, at the second night of White Denim’s back-to-back stint at Brooklyn Bowl, I found myself revisiting this question, but on a broader scale: What is it that makes White Denim, live, so immensely enjoyable?

The facts of the band seem rather unremarkable: four guys from Austin, Texas, whose Wikipedia page reads like a grocery list of genres (dub, progressive rock, jazz). But, just as regional affiliation doesn’t explain much anymore (really, most bands are from the Internet), neither does genre name-checking. So I’ll spare you the use of cognitive shortcuts in the form of one-word musical-style descriptions. Instead, I’ll say that listening to White Denim live, I got the feeling they could do just about anything they want to musically. Not by means of programmed electronic wizardry or weird synthesizers, but by technical instrumentation and cunning. They could burst into an extended jam, as they did on “Drug,” or play close to the studio version, like their rendition of “Tony Fatti.”

Clear proof of their invincibility, for me, came late into the show, during a moment when lead singer and guitarist James Petralli came halfway across the stage to briefly confer with lead guitarist Austin Jenkins. Bassist Steve Terebecki and drummer Joshua Block kept plugging away, staying locked into a groove, punctuated by round bass notes. But at the end of the guitarists’ exchange, after whatever needed to be said was said, they parted and, looking over in separate directions, jumped right back into the rhythm, seamlessly. It was the kind of high-wire act where the audience is rapt by the danger while the performers calmly dazzle with their abilities—a tense moment that makes White Denim not your average jam band or any other kind. They are breathtakingly skilled, melodically sweet and deft to the point of fault. They are indescribably good and you’re lucky to have another chance to see them.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Ross | jeremypross.com

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

The nights are cooler now. After months of record-breaking heat, dusk is finally a time for relief. It makes evening activities tranquil and comfortable. It gives us opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. And if you sit under the cover of trees at the Prospect Park Bandshell, there are few better late-summer events than a Celebrate Brooklyn concert. They create a special environment by pairing live music with a beautiful setting. So last night, at the final ticketed show of the season, we got it all: the perfect scenery, weather and lineup of acts.

M. Ward, the night’s highly anticipated headliner, came on after some prompt stand-up by Wyatt Cenac and a hushed set by Yo La Tengo. Ward, a unique American musician, mixes elements of rock, folk and blues along with his melodic yet gravelly voice and creates something all his own. His guitar work is magnificent too. During “Rollercoaster” he evoked the namesake’s unbalanced feeling with an effective slippery riff. And in other places, he was simply the full package—masterful songwriter and spot-on performer.

“Chinese Translation,” from the album Post-War, is a clever piece of imaginative folklore concerning an inquisitive protagonist and a sagacious elder. It was also made all the better by Ward and his band’s light touch. They knew how to blow the lid off at times, like during “Primitive Girl,” but the quiet moments were my favorites. An encore violin-and-keyboard duo of Daniel Johnston’s “Story of an Artist” was beautiful and apropos. Ward slyly dedicated the song to “the artists in Brooklyn.” He surely knew his audience and played perfectly for the moment.

Photo courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.wordpress.com

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

I’m stuck in fictional 2010, feeling like I just graduated college. I’m still hopeful about the Obama presidency, and my favorite album is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I’m like the show Newsroom—I imagine an idealized version of the proximate past where I do everything right. And in my retelling, I didn’t miss Gold Panda open for Four Tet during CMJ. I didn’t underestimate how long it’d take me to get to Webster Hall. I didn’t waste time eating a weak Japanese meal. Instead, I saw both acts and was blown away by each. And now, fast-forward to the present day, when I’m writing this review with an interesting context for the show I just saw: an extension of the great show I’d seen before.

Now, Gold Panda is two years removed from his critically acclaimed album, Lucky Shiner. He’s reached that critical juncture where he will be defined by what he does next. And so far, in 2012, GP is on track for repeat success. His new single, “Mountain,” is heady and spatial, a mental “Dancing with Myself.” It signposts that the producer and performer would bring his unique vision and talent to bare with the wisdom of experience. And, at the onset, it was clear he’d acquired an advanced sense of pacing and the attentiveness to the needs of his audience.

Gold Panda folded songs’ structures onto themselves, revisiting rhythms on top of melodies and jumbling together the two. When, midway through the set, he blended into the ultimate crowd-pleaser, “You,” it gained pace and impressiveness with an extended introduction tapped out on an MPC. It was, like his other robotically talkative pieces, a Peter Frampton–influenced triumph of language over noise; we hear words in the modulated stew of sound. And behind a similarly hazy yet familiar set of images, the performance felt like popular dance music drugged and sped up through a cassette player. There was a sense of nostalgia in the music. I entertained the past and thoroughly enjoyed the present.

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