There are certain nights when I wish my favorite venues in Brooklyn, all of which happen to inhabit the same square block of Williamsburg, would just band together and offer three-for-one show deals, or at least build a network of secret tunnels connecting each venue to the next – like those elaborate ferret dens you see in pet shops, all neon yellow and orange plastic. Thursday was a perfect example of just such a night, as my buddy Ahmed Gallab and his band Sinkane were opening for Sun Araw at Death By Audio and Brooklyn-based band Friends were over at 285 Kent. Additionally, Annie was amped for a Chris Cohen set at Glasslands, so we did what any good AudioFemmes would do and attended all three between the two of us.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about Sinkane’s set; this blog has not seen the last of him by any means. Frontman Ahmed Gallab is a longtime friend of mine from Ohio, where I’d see him play regularly with two of my favorite Columbus acts, Sweetheart and Pompeii This Morning. Sinkane is the most psychedelic sonic adventure he’s ever been on, and I’ve been stoked to watch it evolve from its humble beginnings as a solo project, through a move to Brooklyn and tours with the likes of Caribou and Yeasayer, and into what it is now – a four piece as much informed by seventies funk and Afrobeat as it is by indie rock. His jams get more and more solid every time I get a chance to see him play, helped along by a recent residency at Zebulon and soon to take the world by storm as he was just signed to DFA. On Thursday he debuted some great new material – stay tuned for an upcoming AF feature.
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As I mentioned, Sinkane was opening up for fellow purveyors of psychedelic sound Sun Araw, though I was only able to stay for a few of their songs. I’ve liked a good many records that they’ve put out, but have never really gotten to see them live. Their first few numbers were droning and dissonant; hair hung in the faces of the flanneled band members who had turned most of the stage lights out just before playing. I’m hoping the set got better as they went on. They were sluggishly nonchalant, as though there weren’t a room filled with folks eyeing their moves, and the songs just didn’t come across as textural or integrated as they do on the albums, and the cloud of weed hovering in the front room of DBA didn’t even help. I’ll be giving them another chance, though, and soon.
I could have probably stuck around a bit longer, but I didn’t want to miss Friends and figured they’d play at 285 Kent around 11:30. When I arrived at the venue, Phone Tag was finishing up an adorably bouncy set that had the crowd (and it was a decently sized crowd for an opening band on a Thursday night) going wild. I hadn’t yet heard their self-titled 2012 LP but was definitely intrigued by the ardent fanbase, not to mention the glistening keys and synths, reverb-drenched guitar and cooing vocals reminiscent of a less grating Passion Pit. The band is led by Gryphon Graham and comprised of some pretty attractive kids. They could just as easily be a group of hip super-heroes as a band, but lucky for everyone at 285 they chose to play instruments instead of fight crime. Their songs are made for rooftop dance parties and flirting in bars, ultra catchy and very fun but never totally frivolous.
All of this made them appropriate openers for Brooklyn band-of-the-moment Friends, who will soon embark on a month-long tour opening for Two Door Cinema Club. Like Phone Tag, Friends play deceivingly simple indie pop party jams, but there’s a certain depth and skill at work that goes beyond the band’s youthful exuberance.
Friends take ultra catchy jams and infuse them with beats and instrumentation so eclectic it’s hard to pin down any definitive influences. Their live shows feature heavy, funky basslines courtesy of a new bassist known as “V” (who in a weird way looks like an avatar from Rock Band), lively synths thanks to Nikki Shapiro, and he percussive efforts of Oliver Duncan (on a drumset) and Etienne Pierre Duguay (formerly of Real Estate) on bongos, tambourine, and anything else that will make a sound when you bash, tap, or click it.
But Friends simply would not be what it is without the incredible vocals and personality of Samatha Urbani, whose aesthetic has informed the band since its inception, when she directed videos for the band’s first and very buzzed about singles, “I’m His Girl” and “Friend Crush”. Wearing high-waisted navy blue pants with double rows of gold buttons, a white shirt tied at the waist with gold beadwork cascading down her back and across her shoulders, Urbani was every bit the glamourous frontwoman.
Her flamboyant-meets-chic style is one thing, but her vocal chops are completely another. She drifts back and forth easily between a higher, sweeter coo and lower, more sultry tones delivered with a dose of sass. That much was apparent on the band’s debut LP, Manifest! released this year. But live she’s that much more captivating, peppering her performance with coquettish yelps and squeals reminiscent of Kate Pierson from the B-52’s. A friend of mine told me that she used to see Urbani perform regularly at karaoke and said that she completely slayed every song, which I not only believe but would have probably paid money to see that alone.