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Posts Tagged ‘Webster Hall’

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

Headliner Tortoise closed Thrill Jockey’s 20th Anniversary show following a string of performances from the label’s talented stable of artists. After their set, a woman in front of me turned around and said, “I’m not emotionally capable of having Tortoise leave.” I asked her, “How high are you?” She leaned in closer and answered, “I haven’t had anything to smoke and I’ve only had one drink.” She continued, “Fifteen years ago, my friends and I used to get stoned and listen to them in our dorm rooms. Now the friends I listened to them with are all married and some have kids. I’m a godmother to one of my friends’ kids.”

And that, the experience of the woman in front of me, is the closest I can get to an understanding of Tortoise. They’re the indie-rock group of the ’90s that friends listened to and spoke about excitedly. They provided a soundtrack, behind which drugs and ideas were exchanged. They made music feel personal and magical—the way every generation produces and supports its innovative creators. And while I may not have been in that dorm room 15 years ago, I still sensed what it was like, and I felt part of something in hearing Tortoise return to Webster Hall.

It is unusual now to hear instrumental rock in concert. It simply isn’t in vogue to perform on bass, drums and guitar without vocals. There is a collective sense of something missing. But Tortoise overcomes this intrinsic difficulty with songs that dazzle and delight. The five members of the group are musicians’ musicians: They trade instruments, play with physicality and always seem to incorporate something technically impressive into their songs. It is progressive rock in that it is multiple minutes of instrumentals, but it is more. It is indefinable, wholly unique and personally felt.

Photo courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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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)

Early yesterday I watched the John Hughes movie The Breakfast Club. And of its distinctive elements, what grabbed me most was the music. Stylized and dated, it can now function only as nostalgia inducing. It would seem schmaltzy synth ballads no longer have a place in popular music. But the genius of M83 is its resurrection and retooling of that discarded period. Anthony Gonzalez, the man behind M83, finds a way to deepen and stretch the sound so much so that it sheds the ’80s and moves into the category of modern shoegaze—heavily affected and loud as fuck.

Last night at Webster Hall, Gonzalez, along with three additional musicians, created M83. I say create because on six studio albums—mostly recently Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming—the band is essentially a one-man job. But live, with a bassist, drummer and keys player, M83 is as expansive if not more so than its recorded material. From opener “Intro” to such songs off the previous album, Saturdays=Youth, like “We Own the Sky” and “Skin of the Night,” Webster Hall’s PA worked overtime to soak the room in sound. The ambition was audible.

Photo courtesy of Charles Steinberg

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

Surprise is no longer an appropriate reaction when it comes to technology’s entanglement with music. Pro Tools, pedals and amplifiers are now mainstays of live performances, expanding timbral possibilities beyond acoustic capability. To believe otherwise is to impose delusion on reality. The more appropriate response is awe and wonder. Try matching sound to sight and you’re more likely to become dizzy than echolocate instrumentation. But that challenge makes bands like Battles a thoroughly engaging show, with the eyes, ears and mind.

On Tuesday night at Webster Hall, Battles returned to a “hometown crowd” for the first time since April. The band is currently touring in support of its latest album, Gloss Drop, the first without former band member Tyondai Braxton. And, while his vocal contributions are missed, they aren’t forgotten. Without a singer, Battles’ live show relies on recorded vocal tracks from Braxton as well as recent Gloss Drop contributors, like Matias Aguayo and Gary Numan. The trick is Battles matches the vocals to video projections of the singers, a clever way to humanize the sound.

But outside of watching the band and the screens, Battles’ performance is most appreciated in its ingenuity and physicality. Multi-instrumentalists Ian Williams and Dave Konopka constantly trigger loops and tinker with sounds while drummer John Stanier pounds mercilessly against his drum kit, highlighted by an elevated ride cymbal. During performances of crowd pleasers “Atlas” and “Ice Cream,” all three melded their seemingly incongruous parts into a whole, astonishingly sounding like pop music. It is electronic madness—enough so to inspire periodic moshing, but Battles always finds a way to make it both difficult and enjoyable.

Photo courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | www.gregggreenwood.com

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(Editor’s Note: This is Dan’s first post for Playtonic Dialogues)

Ten years of Minus the Bear have passed and there is still no obvious way to categorize them. Not merely what genre of music do they fall into, but everything about them seems to be a bit of a contradiction. For a band led by a singer who looks like Jim Morrison at the height of his acid years, the group hardly matches their visual aesthetic. Instead, they play with a relentless energy and almost mechanical precision more often seen in electronic music than fellow scruffy guitar-driven rock bands.

Starting off the concert with the choice opening lyrics of “Let’s get the fuck out of here” from their 2001 classic “Hey, Wanna Throw Up? Get Me Naked” had a tinge of irony. Playing with an infectious dynamism of repeating and interwoven guitar riffs created a momentum that steamrolled the audience into submission, bringing even the most mild-mannered fans to bob their heads. Accompanied by pulsating strobes and twirling colored spotlights, no one could imagine “getting the fuck out of there,” let alone even think that a world outside that show existed.

Marking their 10 year anniversary as a band with a celebratory tour, their Wednesday night show at Webster Hall relied heavily on their earlier work from the era of unfortunate song titles (my personal favorites include “Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!” and “Thanks for that Killer Game of Crisco Twister”).

“For those that don’t know, we’re playing one of our records entirely through,” announced lead singer Jake Snider, three songs into their acclaimed 2002 album Highly Refined Pirates. For their final song, “Let’s Play Guitar in a Five Guitar Band,” they brought out fellow genre defiers and tour-mates The Velvet Teen, providing some much welcomed vocal oomph to the final chorus before the band came back for an encore of their more recent releases. The show ended with “Pachuca Sunrise.”

When most bands announce an “Anniversary Tour” and rely heavily on older material in their catalogue it’s seen as a sign that the band might be entering their twilight years. But for Minus the Bear it seems more about seizing the opportunity to reinterpret their older songs with the infectious live energy they’ve developed over the past few years of touring. This band isn’t slowing down anytime soon, but we can at least be thankful that their song titles have improved.

Photo by Dan

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

Stephen Malkmus is an elder statesman of indie rock. With Pavement, his first and best-known band, he achieved critical and (somewhat) commercial success. But more important, he influenced a generation of music. His snarky, hyperliterate lyrics matched with meandering and playful guitar parts embodied Generation X—sarcastic, laid-back and smart. But with the desire to be more than a singularly defined musician, Malkmus went on to play with Silver Jews, attempt a solo career and start a new band, his current project, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks.

It’s with this lineup, a quartet featuring Malkmus on guitar and vocals, Mike Clark on guitar and keys, Joanna Bolme on bass and Jake Morris on drums, that Malkmus now focuses his energy. And on Sunday night at Webster Hall, Malkmus brought the group to promote their latest effort, Mirror Traffic. Now in the 2Ks (as the new song “Tigers” labels this period), Malkmus still composes himself as assuredly cool. Tall, lean and with a mop of shaggy brown hair, he looks like a well-preserved version of his younger self. And standing off to the side of the stage, he engaged with his songs as a veteran does: confidently and professionally.

While playing through songs both old (opening with “Baby C’mon” and closing with “1% of One”) and new (material from Mirror Traffic, highlighted by “Senator” and “Stick Figures in Love”), the band looked to be enjoying themselves, especially Morris. The drummer, the most animated of the bunch, head-banged, cracked jokes and skillfully provided fills in otherwise unoccupied musical spaces. Outside of his enthusiasm, everyone else in the group let their play, rather than their manner, communicate the songs’ pungent energy. Malkmus’s guitar solos certainly showed technical proficiency, although their effectiveness came more from playing the right notes at the right time. More than 20 years of musical excellence makes such play second nature.

Photo courtesy of Mina K

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Afternoon Playtonics,

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… This month I will be contributing reviews for the following shows:

8/2: Wet Hot American Summer @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

8/11: Cut Copy @ Prospect Park          

8/20: the War on Drugs @ Mercury Lounge           

8/23: Live Trilogy Mixtape Jam @ Mercury Lounge

8/26: Sun Araw @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

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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