LIVE REVIEW: Cold War Kids and Overcoats @ The Novo

At The Novo in Downtown LA on Friday, February 21, indie rock band Cold War Kids performed their last show in a six-week tour with electronic duo Overcoats. From a cappella harmonies and classical string instruments to electric guitars and keyboards, the two acts brought together diverse styles of music for a night that kept the audience on its toes. 

Overcoats, consisting of singer-songwriters Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell, released their first album, Young, less than three years ago, but they’ve come a long way since. Over the past few years, they’ve put out the singles “Leave If You Wanna” and “The Fool,” which give off poppier vibes than their earlier music. Their next album, The Fight, is out March 6. 

Despite their musical evolution, Elion and Mitchell still present on stage much the same as they did earlier in their careers — like two good friends having a blast together. The members have been friends since they met in 2011 at Wesleyan University, and it shows. Throughout their performance, they danced together, twirled each other around, and even did a synchronized head-bang. 

The opening act’s selections ranged from their lullaby-like 2016 cover of Hozier’s “Cherry Wine” to 2019’s heartfelt “Keep the Faith,” complete with energetic guitar interludes, and the catchy “I Don’t Believe in Us” off Young. Elion and Mitchell were joined by drummer Madi Vogt and Sara Lupa on bass, keys, and guitar, and they were all visibly enjoying themselves. During the country-inspired “Leave If You Wanna,” Elion lay down while Lupa played on top of her, the audience clapped their hands along with the band, and Cold War Kids’ Joe Plummer jumped in to shake a tambourine. 

Cold War Kids built up the anticipation for their set; all the audience could hear for several minutes was the belting of an operatic voice before the band took the stage. At last, they opened with “Love is Mystical,” the first single of 2017’s L.A. Divine, full of catchy keyboard tunes and drum beats. Lead singer Nathan Willett’s voice was soulful and powerful, a bit reminiscent of a young Van Morrison. On the wall behind the stage, it read “Cold War Kids” and “New Age Norms,” the name of the band’s seventh studio album, released last year. 

The main act went on to play “Who’s Gonna Love Me Now,” a bluesy song released just the week prior, and “Lost That Easy,” a single from 2013’s Dear Miss Lonelyhearts that epitomizes indie rock with danceable synths, dreamy lyrics like “a swollen tongue, a plastic gun / red burn from an orange sun,” and triumphant chords. The audience went wild for the chart-topping 2006 single “Hang Me Up to Dry,” dancing and cheering and singing along, and the band fed off the energy of the crowd, coming down to the center of the stage to dance together. 

Willett performed the 2019 ballad “Beyond the Pale” by himself on the piano, then Overcoats returned to harmonize with him. Cold War Kids followed with an emotional acoustic version of “So Tied Up” and a rendition of “Calm Your Nerves” accompanied by a violinist and cellist. The same instrumentalists added a haunting layer to “Dirt in My Eyes.”

While Cold War Kids and Overcoats differ in style, and the former has been around longer than the latter, both acts appear intent on continuing to expand their musical horizons and experiment with different sounds. Altogether, they delivered something you couldn’t get just from listening to their recordings — and isn’t that the point of seeing live music?

INTERVIEW: How Team Dresch is Living the Dream

Team Dresch pulls a fan on stage to sing “Hate The Christian Right” at Union Transfer. All photos by Amanda Silberling.

Before Team Dresch performs their 1995 anthem “Hate the Christian Right” at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer last week, singer and guitarist Jody Bleyle pulls a longtime fan from the crowd on stage. 

As the queercore legends get ready to rip into the next song on their long-awaited reunion tour, the fan – Marlene – yells into the microphone, breathless: “I want you all to know… Dreams do come true.” Seconds later, she’s dancing on stage, playing air guitar back-to-back with Kaia Wilson, screaming the decades-old (yet still relevant) anti-authoritarian lyrics: “You never wanted to care/You kill, you kill, you kill!”

Reunion is in the air these days  – there was Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, and now, Team Dresch. As someone who spent the Riot Grrrl movement in diapers, I sometimes feel like the significance of these “triumphant returns” is lost on me. In the crowd, I listen to queer punks wax poetic about how it felt to discover Team Dresch – an all-lesbian punk band – in the ’90s, and how surreal it is to see them perform so many years later (only this time, they had to pay for babysitters). Whether you’re an old fan or a newbie, Team Dresch shreds – but now, a week after the show, I’m most affected by how it felt to watch Marlene’s “dream” come true – to see someone derive so much pure joy from the love of music.

Team Dresch plays Union Transfer. All photos by Amanda Silberling.

I find myself feeling jaded these days, which is worrisome, because I’m only as old as Team Dresch’s second record, Captain My Captain (1996). I work at an art museum – something I’ve dreamed of for all of my life – yet, something feels off when I listen to my coworker tell me about her exciting visit to another gallery last weekend. 

“Do you ever get tired of going to museums?” I ask her. “Since, you know, we spend so much time in one?”

“Oh, god no,” she says. 

It’s not that I’ve lost my passion (just recently, a Bruce Naumann sculpture made me openly weep). It’s just that the older I get, I find myself less excited about the things that I love so fiercely. I’m terrified. I used to line up outside of concert venues hours early, yet now, going to shows can feel like a chore, no matter how much I still do – and always will – love music. 

This is on my mind when Des Ark opens the show, reluctantly coming out of a sort-of-retirement as an homage to Team Dresch, a band that frontperson Aimée Argote credits with “saving [her] life.”

After years of touring – pushing through the physical and mental toll of being a full-time punk musician – Argote woke up one day in 2016 and realized she was burnt out. She tells IndyWeek, “I sat up and was like, it’s gone. It’s gone. It’s gone. That thing that you have inside of you that says, go to work, make music, do your thing. There’s nothing there.” Despite leaving the precarious, unrewarding lifestyle of punk rock behind, Argote’s appreciation for her longtime idols was still enough to get back on stage for one last mini-tour before she quits music for good.

Des Ark performing at Union Transfer. All photos by Amanda Silberling.

What must it be like to achieve “the dream” – to “make it” in music, develop a fan base, and perform night after night – only to discover that in this dream, something indiscernible feels wrong, and it’s kind of a relief to wake up in the morning? What does it mean that, for Marlene, the dream is to get on stage just once, yet for Aimée, living the same dream night after night isn’t as glorious as it seems? Is our collective dream – of spending day after day surrounded by our passions – one that deteriorates as you approach it, like when you get to the best part of your dream, only to wake up suddenly? 

During Des Ark’s set, Aimée Argote takes a moment to preface “Ashley’s Song,” a song about processing a sexual assault. The crowd is silent as Argote explains the pain of telling people what happened. Then, a voice shouts from the back of the room: “We believe you.” 

What’s so special about the bands who played that night – Team Dresch, Screaming Females, and Des Ark – is that, if you’re a fan, you’re probably not an asshole. So, if you showed up to their gig, you’re probably not an asshole. And maybe “the dream” isn’t so much about the music itself, but rather, the dream is to spend as much time as we can with people who aren’t assholes. 

Jody Bleyle says: “Every night I feel like I get more inspiration to just continue… being alive, but also just doing the work of being a person in the world that is on the left, and a freak, and fighting fascism, and having to live in this world that we’re living in right now, going into the streets, fighting climate change… All the shit we have to do day to day when you’re not at a show.” 

It’s tempting to view Des Ark’s farewell and Team Dresch’s reunion in contrast with one another, but they aren’t. Maybe the dream, like any progress, is not linear, nor is it static – I sympathize with Argote’s decision to leave music, especially given the misogyny that still infects even the most “alternative” of spaces. Even Bleyle openly admits: “Mental health issues drove me away from full-time rock.” Yet at the same time, even decades after their emergence, I feel immensely relieved to have a band like Team Dresch back on the road and recording a new album. We need more bands like Team Dresch (and Screaming Females, and Des Ark) in our lives to remind us of why we fell in love with music in the first place, and why every once in a while – even if you’re exhausted from the 9-to-5 grind – it’s worth it to get yourself out to a show.

When Marlene tells us, her fellow fans, that dreams come true, maybe she doesn’t mean that all of us will one day get to perform on stage with our favorite bands. Maybe the dream is more simple: to merely surround ourselves with the right people. And thank god that some bands have a knack for bringing the right people together.

Team Dresch performing at Union Transfer. All photos by Amanda Silberling.

Find the rest of Audiofemme’s chat with Jody Bleyle and Donna Dresch below

AF: What was your dream when Team Dresch began, and how has that changed after deciding to record another album after 23 years?

JB: I feel like, to me, the dream is similar to what it was when we started the band when we were younger, which was just… the need to find similar people, the need to find dykes to play music with, and not just any music, but the kind of music that I love. I think we all felt like we needed to find people that really, we could relate to, in terms of loving the same bands, in the way that you have that burning desire, but also dykes. It really felt like life or death. Like, “I don’t know how I’m going to move forward into life if I don’t find this.” And it doesn’t feel like that anymore, but it feels like the dream is the same in terms of just wanting to be with these people – wanting to play music with these people, having that be such a big part of being able to be happy, and feel good about yourself in the world. It’s definitely not about anything more than just wanting to connect with people, and being able to play shows, and being able to connect with everybody who comes to the show. 

AF: Each band on the lineup – Team Dresch, Screaming Females, and Des Ark – really did seem to have a knack for connecting with the audience. It was such an emotional moment when Des Ark introduced “Ashley’s Song,” and she was talking about coming to terms with an assault, and someone shouted, “We believe you.”

JB: Let’s assume that most people in that room have people at this point in our lives who believe us, but to have that next level where you’re in a room with some people that you know, but mostly strangers, who you can have that same feeling of intimacy and connection with – it’s just so deeply powerful and comforting. I don’t know, every night I feel like I get more inspiration to just continue… being alive, but also just doing the work of being a person in the world that is on the left, and a freak, and fighting fascism, and having to live in this world that we’re living in right now, going into the streets, fighting climate change… All the shit we have to do day to day when you’re not at a show. It’s hard! It’s crazy! 

AF: It’s tempting to say that all these bands from the Riot Grrrl era are reuniting because of who is President now, but I think they would have reunited either way, because there is always something to fight for. 

JB: It’s all the same river, and we’re all in it together. It never ends. Sometimes, people will talk to us and be like, “Can you believe that we’re still fighting the Christian right?” but you know, it never ends – the struggles to be seen, and help other people… It’s been going on for thousands of years, and it will keep going on. It’s in the river. 

AF: Is it weird to go between a day job and punk rock?

DD: I like my day job! I go there every day! 

JB: I like my day job too. I don’t mind the balance, like… your life might not be exactly as you planned that it would be or whatever, I don’t know. As I got older, I personally started to really feel like I really needed and appreciated having balance in my life, of different things. It’s always a question of figuring out how much I need at a minimum of which different things, and to just kind of keep it all in balance, you know? Like, I don’t have to play music with Team Dresch every day of the year, but if I didn’t play at all, I’d be really sad. But I like having my day job too, because, I don’t know, when I was only playing rock, it drove me over the edge. I’d already had two surgeries from rock music by the time I was 26, and I was like, “Whoa, I’m not going to make it!” And I have kids, and I really appreciate being home with them. I think it would be really hard. Even in my other job, I don’t choose to travel, so I feel like I have a good balance going, and I think a lot of people as they get older appreciate that balance, because there’s always going to be more than one thing in your life. Although, at that age, I do remember being like… You just give your life to music and nothing else matters. Your health doesn’t matter, your girlfriend doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter whether you have kids… It doesn’t matter if you die by the time you’re 29. Nothing matters but writing the next song. But then you’re like, you know what else is fun? Buying a down comforter and having a really cozy bed. 

AF: Full-time rock is hard!

JB: Mental health issues drove me away from full-time rock. 

AF: Was it difficult to bring the band back together?

DD: We hang out all the time anyway. This is my family. If I need to talk to my best friend, I call Jody. We get together, like, one of us has an idea like, “I want to play in Brazil,” and once a year, every other year, we learn the songs again and play them.

AF: Now that you’re recording a new album, what have you learned since the last record you released? 

JB: We learned a lot of things that you just learn as you get older. We have to be patient with each other, we have to practice with each other and understand who we are and respect each other. We have to be better with our communicating, we have to be better with our boundaries, and we have to learn things that lucky people learn when they’re 14, but we learn when we’re in our mid-to-late 30s, possibly 40s. Of course, taking a break, you appreciate it more – because we don’t play full time, we don’t take it for granted. It’s so special to get to play these shows with people. It’s so incredible to hear people sing songs you wrote, to have people give you the love they say you’ve given them… It’s incredible. We’re really lucky.


LIVE REVIEW: Landlady @ Nublu 151

Adam Schatz with a face mask on

Nublu 151 looks like the inside of Satan’s jewel box. Kaleidoscopic projections swirl on the walls and a dangling disco ball takes the place of a wind-up ballerina. But it’s the pervasive red and blue lighting that really lends a sinister tint to the venue. The colors radiate over the main floor, the hallway, the balcony bar where attendees can peer over the band’s backside as if looking down into a dog pit. Even the bathrooms are trapped in the eerie glow; as I flushed the toilet, a woman’s hand smacked firmly on the semi sheer wall to my right. I almost expected the glass to be streaked with blood.

Eric Lane, the house piano man, only added to the evening’s Lynchian ambiance. He delighted us with cocktail-hour salsa standards, a Beach Boys ballad, and Angelo Badalamenti’s opening theme to “Twin Peaks.” His playing went down like a glug of brandy, warming the throat and coating the stomach. By this point, I’d nearly forgotten that it was a reasonable hour, that I hadn’t had anything to drink, and although I felt as if I was waiting for a heartsick chanteuse to traipse onstage, I was actually there to see Landlady.

Wednesday night marked Landlady’s second in a series of three weekly concerts at Nublu 151 (their final date lands on September 25). Each night of the residency is opened by a different artist, and singer-songwriter Allegra Krieger warmed the crowd with the help of her intuitive backing band, who improvised ambient passages on bowed bass and guitar during Krieger’s multiple tuning breaks. Krieger’s music is haunting and delicate, and strengthened by the tasteful contributions of her bandmates. Her voice is somehow breathy yet potent, reminding me of Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker. If you weren’t paying attention, you might be fooled by Krieger’s airy register and fresh face—but you’d be missing out on her wry songs about suspicion, solitude, and the “decaying human race,” to borrow her phrase.

If Eric Lane’s piano interludes seemed to be courting dark forces, Landlady’s set felt like a sermon. Adam Schatz and his bandmates always give a rapturous performance, with no shortage of instrumental freakouts or full-body contortions. Schatz has a way of moving that suggests divine possession, though at times he simply prances around, arms crunched close to his body like a T. Rex. The band bulldozed through songs spanning all three of their studio albums, pulling off an impressive four-part harmony on “Under the Yard” from 2014’s Upright Behavior (guitarist Will Graefe was tasked with the highest notes, and he delivered admirably).

Despite a leaking ceiling and a couple of sound issues (we learned that the bassist couldn’t hear anything when he accidentally said so directly into his microphone), Landlady flew seamlessly between high energy versions of “Electric Abdomen,” “Dying Day,” “Solid Brass,” and a handful of new songs. The unrecognizable tracks were some of the most thrilling, invigorated by Ian Chang’s inspired relationship with his drum kit. Of course, no Landlady gig would be complete without Schatz’s clever rambling. Landlady’s leading man is so charismatic and hilarious that at times you want him to just keep talking… about Cheers and Frasier, or mundane fiascos, or anything. Whether his wit is calculated or compulsive is unclear, but it’s an absolute treat either way.

When Schatz announced that Landlady had two songs left, I wouldn’t have guessed that the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care” would be one of them. Allegra Krieger hopped back onstage to tackle Roy Orbison’s part while Schatz vamped around for the rest. But after the carefree fun of a cover song, Schatz got earnest, dedicating the somber “Above My Ground” to those we’ve lost as of late: Daniel Johnston, David Berman, Neal Casal… people we have never met, and people we’d do anything to see again.

LIVE REVIEW: Xiu Xiu @ The Chapel

Xiu Xiu, touring with members of Swans’ live ensemble, played SF’s The Chapel on 5/28. Photo by Shomei Tomatsu

“Loner,” Thor Harris murmurs matter-of-factly, temporarily seizing the mic from Xiu Xiu frontman, Jamie Stewart. “Lonerrrrrr.” It’s a fitting accusation to thrust into this particular sea of transfixed eyes, as it’s just about halftime and the notion of being little more than jumbled limbs in a heaving crowd has been hastily forgotten. Not long after Xiu Xiu’s sonic slink into the ether, the average schmuck is far too agog to notice the quivering mass of those that are surely sweating on arms and breathing on necks. No, we’ve collectively embraced a healthy dose of social apathy, and we’ve got Stewart’s yowling to thank for it. So when Harris calls out for the loner, we silently respond en masse. Of course, he’s simply reading the first few lines of “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy,” the fifth track off of Xiu Xiu’s latest album, Girl with Basket of Fruit. But it feels as if he’s addressing each one of us directly, rubbed raw by Stewart’s aching bellows and the throbbing bassline of guest bassist Christopher Pravdica, best known as the longstanding bassist of Swans.

The Chapel (a former funeral home in the San Francisco Mission District) possesses the warmth and coloring of an internal organ. Indeed, the Suspiria-red walls fractured by Blue Velvet-hued lighting creates the sort of glow one might discover if they were to slip through a pulmonary artery. However, Xiu Xiu appear to be right at home. They graciously open with perhaps their most well-known song, “I Luv the Valley OH!” and Stewart ensures that that shriek of an OH! is just as gloriously cathartic as it is on the recorded track. Following this nod to their 2004 album, Fabulous Muscles, the trio eagerly launches into their latest, including the aforementioned “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy” (sadly performed without the intoxicating vocal contributions of lyricist Angela Seo), “It Comes Out as a Joke,” “Scisssssssors,” and the album’s namesake track.

Wasting no precious energy on mindless banter between songs, Stewart commits to the performative purge: jumping, jerking, and writhing onstage. His characteristically precarious wail travels from bellowing roar to splitting shriek to curious quack to seductive whisper and back again. In short, the man is seriously well-equipped. The instruments Stewart samples over the course of the show span an equally compelling range (including a slide whistle and what appears to be a makeshift maraca), and his cowbell clanging and cymbal slamming during “It Comes Out as a Joke” is absolutely no nonsense. Thor Harris, Xiu Xiu’s congenial drummer (like Pravdica, known for his work in Swans), also scrambles standard instrumental roleplay. In addition to his spoken word-esque reading of the “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy” (which nonchalantly closes with “And I am kind of a dopey-ass goofball weirdo so I can get why some people don’t like me”), Harris bashes a gong and samples wooden claves. Pravdica, too, is not confined to the bass guitar. One would be remiss to forget his brief affair with those castanets during the encore performance of “Sad Pony Guerilla Girl” (A Promise, 2003).

In pathetic sum, language seemed pretty superfluous by the time I stumbled out of The Chapel, lulled into an awe-bitten, catatonic state. I haven’t even mentioned the lolling lament of “Get Up,” (FORGET, 2017), the absolute blessing of “Clowne Towne” (Fabulous Muscles, 2004), and Stewart’s literal use of snapping scissors as percussive party to the performance of “Scisssssssors.” Fellow affected attendees sucked on cigarettes outside the venue, speechlessness the rule. Given the glaring limitations of the English language, perhaps it is best to refer now to the absurdist bio supplied by Xiu Xiu for their show listing, excerpted from “Ice Cream Truck” on Girl with Basket of Fruit:

“It could be handfuls of reds,” it begins, followed by absurdities that vacillate between the disturbing and the delicious. “It could be mescal in a bottle & baby on a boob, hair dyed blonde for nobody, nobody move.”

It could be that the act of writing this review was an exercise in futility.

It could be that was the best twenty bucks I ever spent.

LIVE REVIEW: Sophie Meiers @ Baby’s All Right

In the bar prior to the start of the show, I notice a girl behind me by her soft laugh that contrasted the sad clown makeup dripping down her eyes. Heavy BDSM-inspired leather jewelry, fishnet fingerless gloves, and torn-up knee-high socks weigh down her 5’3″ stature. Commanding attention in the most unassuming way, this girl – unmistakably Sophie Meiers – is playing what is only her second show in New York City tonight at Baby’s All Right. The next time I see her is on stage setting up for her performance, turning around to reveal a plush panda backpack. I joke to a friend that I hoped she’d keep the backpack on; she did, for the duration of the performance.

Having gained a following by posting songs to Soundcloud over the last two years, tracks like “Wet Socks” and “Don’t Be Scared” conducted the crowd into a uniform sway, floating on her flawless pitch. A standout of the set was a song of nearly painful selfless devotion, the Nion-produced “Broken Toys.” Embellished with imagery of Meiers as a “pretty package” adorned in “ribbons and colors,” her visceral, yet plaintive cry of “Did you see, the note on the inside?/It said ‘eat me alive'” shouldn’t sound as romantic as it felt in that moment. It’s thanks to her airy timbre resonating a blissful effervescence without sacrificing any strength.

Her covers of fellow R&B crooners Allen Stone and Corinne Bailey Rae were lovely breaks in the set. The bedroom synth re-imagining of Stone’s “Unaware,” a song about economic strife, felt optimistically warm. Meanwhile, her voice suited “Put Your Records On” so well that you’d almost believe the song was written to be heard in low fidelity. There was little banter between songs, just genuine “thank yous” and that same soft giggle that I’d heard inside the bar.

Her allure draws me closer to the stage (as does that of her standout sax player Jason, if we’re being honest) where I then notice the cat faces on her shoes; it’s an aesthetic best described as “Hot Topic baby,” or better yet, “gutter girl” flavor, a title she has branded across the top of her thighs. She looks perfectly in place before the sparkle of Baby’s All Right’s unmistakable backdrop. A fan in the front row had a bold, inky eyeliner design to rival Meiers’ own.

Closing song “Forget Me Not” offered a sudden increase in tempo and heavier bass that manifested the young crowd into the softest form a mosh pit could ever take. She floated off the stage as quietly as she came on, leaving me feeling haunted, wondering when I might next be graced with her presence.

LIVE REVIEW: Young Jesus, IAN SWEET @Park Church Co-Op

“There were certain things about my Christian upbringing that I liked. Others, not so much.” The irony that John Rossiter’s band is playing in a Lutheran church has not been lost on the Young Jesus frontman. Surely the crucifix presiding over the stage at Park Church Co-Op did not go unnoticed by Rossiter, who, with his shoulder-length hair and slim frame, could have easily played our Lord and Savior in a high school Christmas pageant. But despite the coincidence and implicit humor in a band called Young Jesus performing in a place of worship, the setting was perfect for the Los Angeles quartet, who clearly know how to optimize their surroundings.

The songs from Young Jesus’ most recent album The Whole Thing Is Just There felt perfectly at home in such a space. The music seemed to billow from their instruments, drifting upward to the vaulted ceiling along with the machine-secreted smoke that accents so many of the Co-Op’s concerts. The songs took their time, allowing us to bask in every trilled hi-hat and the programmed howls emanating from Eric Shevrin’s double-decker keyboard. Rossiter and his band are proficient in the art of anticipation, lingering in silence before doling out a single strike on their instruments, repeating the process at slower intervals until their songs settled like dust on the chapel floor. Tracks like “Bell” and “Deterritory” stretched out like Jeff Buckley compositions, and I wondered if it was mere coincidence when Rossiter mentioned that a particular song on their setlist had “Grace” as its working title. Whether or not Buckley was on Rossiter’s mind, he admitted that “Grace” felt like a fitting, one-word sermon for the evening.

If Young Jesus provided the pensive, languorous atmosphere at the Co-Op, L.A.’s IAN SWEET ushered in a dreamscape of love and longing. Helmed by the tiny and tenacious Jilian Medford, IAN SWEET arrived onstage in a cloud of hot pink smoke, as if they were genies emerging from a shared lamp. Having just released their sophomore LP Crush Crusher on Sub Pop’s Hardly Art imprint, the trio played the bulk of its tracklist during their set, including the murky “Spit” and the sparsely arranged title track, during which Medford’s band left the stage to make space for what she called her “dance break.”

Medford is an unlikely but captivating bandleader; she seems perpetually amused and even surprised that she is onstage. Her between-song banter often fractures into a girlish giggle. But she is quick to volley from her sweet and vulnerable side to a wailing, guitar-shredding entity, who occasionally screamed so hard that she sounded possessed. Possessed by what forces, I can’t saybut something strong enough to make me stay put in a church pew.     

LIVE REVIEW: Public Memory @ Mercury Lounge

I’ve never felt more old or useful than at last night’s Public Memory show. After getting startled by the opening clang of a crash cymbal (who could ever anticipate drums at a rock concert?) and bolting away from the monitors to the back of the room, it dawned on me that I’d forgotten to bring earplugs. Again. Fortunately, I hadn’t forgotten chewing gum, and as I smacked on two pieces of sweet mint Orbit, a little light bulb sparked in my brainnot to be confused with glittering refractions from the overhead disco ball. I scampered to the bathroom, spit out my gum, split it in two, wrapped each piece in toilet paper, and crammed a wad into each ear. I felt like a geriatric MacGyver, who wasn’t capable of saving the world, but could at least protect his own eardrums. Shoddily plugged, I re-entered the venue less frightened, and feeling minty in places I’d never felt minty before.

Public Memory, the project fronted by singer, songwriter, and producer Robert Toher, might have been playing so loud out of celebrationit was their record release party, after all. Demolition, Toher’s third LP as Public Memory, drops November 9 via Felte, and the performance was cloaked in the album’s dark, hallucinatory aesthetic. A veil of lavender light was cast against the stage along with swirling white polka dots. Toher manned keyboard effects, guitar, lead vocals, and occasionally hand-held percussion. I still find it jarring when moody electronic groups bust out the tambourine, but if it’s good enough for Trent Reznor, who can blame them? And there wasn’t just tambo in store: each member of Public Memory’s live band brandished their own maraca, and I could’ve sworn I heard the tinkle of jingle bells.

All ribbing aside, the bells and shakers were joyful addition to Public Memory’s heavy, narcotic soundscapes. Toher’s voice is described as a “spectral tenor” on PM’s Bandcamp page, and rightly so; he elongates his vocals with reverb, often sounding as though he is calling out from a distant room. The words Toher sings are not so much the focus of his songs, but are instead used as their own instruments, floating weightlessly between crisp drums and shrieking synth passages that sound harvested from a horror movie score. The mood was rich, eerie, and commanding. What better way to spend the night before Halloween than at a spooky concert with gum stuck in your ears?

LIVE REVIEW: Told Slant, Lily Konigsberg @ Park Church Co-op

As someone who’s spent little time in them, it is strange how familiar old churches smell. They smell like warm dust, wood, and maple syruplike a childhood home you’ve never stepped foot in before. It’s a combination of aromas rarely found in the glass and concrete structures of New York City, but at Park Church Co-Op in Greenpoint, it is a scent that lingers low in the air and welcomes you in. On Monday night, the Co-op was glowing electric pink and blue, casting an artificial sunset against the furthest stage wall. Its edges bled to purple where the two colors met. A slight, boyish woman by the name of Franz Charcoal took the stage holding a mint green electric guitar. Franz played simple, minute-long songs that sometimes ended just when you were getting into them. At times these songs were so short, the audience would hesitate to clap at the end, thinking Franz was simply pausing before another verse. She never was. “Yeah, they’re pretty short,” Franz said after one such moment. “But there’s a lot of them.”

Despite the dimly lit stage, I couldn’t help but think that this Franz Charcoal person looked and sounded familiar. A bit like Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos. A lot like Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos, in fact. But if you were to ask the woman herself, she was Franz Charcoal, a “rascal” who plays brief, autobiographical songs about misbehaving in church, of all places. Her presence was playful and lightweight considering the heavy atmosphere of the church itself. When Franz left the stage, the crucifix hanging behind her was bathed in hot red spotlights like a scene from a religious horror film.

The following acts helped a great deal in bringing some levity back to the setting. Felicia Douglass (of Ava Luna) offered her crisp approach to electronic, soul, and poetic R&B, which at times sounded like the seeds of Prince songs. Palberta’s Lily Konigsberg, meanwhile, made great use of her comedic timing to compensate for the fact that she’d lost her voice the night before. “This is a 50-year-old smoker’s rendition of my songs,” she said. “I may cough. I don’t want to.” Her music retained its stark beauty despite being stripped of some of the synthesizer flourishes on her recordings, and the rasp in her voice was a welcomed bit of grit to an evening filled with such polite music. Alone with an acoustic guitar, Konigsberg still yields a lovely and entertaining performance, especially when punctuated by the artist spritzing her throat with mentholated cold medication. At the end of her set, she curtly and sweetly said, “Okay. I’m done.”

Told Slant’s Felix Walworth is the first performer to address the oddness of the church all evening. At one point he paused just before starting a song; “Sorry,” he said. “It’s actually profoundly strange to be up here.” And it was profoundly strange to be down in the pews, as well. Not only for their unavoidable religious context, but also because sitting in a church pew makes you feel like a child. When Walworth (politely) ordered the crowd to stand up and sing “Tsunami” with him, I felt like I was participating in a camp sing-along or a Sunday sermon. Sometimes the connotations of the space you occupy are too powerful to leave the performance alone, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it was, as Walworth pointed out, profoundly strange.

LIVE REVIEW: DeVotchKa @ Rough Trade

Four-piece ensemble DeVotchKa returned to a packed house to premiere a handful of new songs at their album release show at Rough Trade. I found myself surrounded by fans of all ages in the dimly lit venue, though not too dark to notice a few people around me clad in the band’s tees. Chatter of the new record was alive as we anticipated DeVotchKa, who took the stage twenty minutes late.

“We are gathered here today to celebrate the release of our new album,” preaches lead singer Nick Urata, met with cheers from his congregation. “It was a long and difficult birth, but we’ve arrived.”

DeVotchKa are perhaps best known for their work in film scoring, most notably the Grammy-nominated soundtrack for 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine. Seven years since their last studio release is a long and difficult birth indeed, but new record The Night Falls Forever does not disappoint, at least not live.

Tom Hagerman on violin.

The band kept to a high energy setlist. Setting off a string of new tracks was “Straight Shot,” the lead single from the new record. Charmingly cozy while still anthemic, I had fallen in love with the lyric video for this track prior to the show but it doesn’t compare to hearing it live. Urata’s vocals carry over an animated, optimistic beat that had a couple salsa dancing right next to me in the limited space there was, others even taking a step back to give them more room. It’s a small sentiment that characterizes this room of DeVotchKa fans: cheerful, untroubled, and ready to welcome you with open arms.

It’s fun to hear a new record live prior to its release, given that I wasn’t familiar with any new singles other than “Straight Shot.” A track called “Break Up Song” slowed things down, but not at the loss of their momentum. Another stand out is “Empty Vessels” an uplifting anthem that exhibits what DeVotchKa do best.

Nick Urata and Jeanie Schroder.

During his opening set, solo singer-songwriter IRO stated, “There are so many instruments on this stage right now, I feel lonely.” There was no doubt that DeVotchKa would make use of them all, but watching them in action was really something else. “Let’s bring out another horn!” shouted Urata, before welcoming trumpeter Kenny Warren, who has also performed with the likes of Spoon and The Walkmen, on stage.

Jazz saxophonist and flautist Jessica Lurie also joined the band for a handful of songs. Jeanie Schroder had blue lights drawing eyes to her sousaphone, but portrayed her skills on upright and electric bass, as well as the flute (“How many shows do you get to see two flautists?” asks Urata, and I realize this is probably the only time I’ll ever experience that.) Tom Hagerman exercised his talents on accordion, violin, and piano. Urata, too, swapped instruments during the set, from guitar to theremin, even bringing out a bouzouki for the latter half. None of this outshone Shawn King’s resonant polka-like percussion. They chose to play with isolation of sound on both sides of the room, making the audience feel enveloped by sound.

Older tracks like “100 Other Lovers” still had the same life years later. After that song, I overheard the guy behind me tell his friends, “You know what? Holy shit! I knew this song, a couple of songs, whatever, but holy shit, they’re really fucking good.”

Of course, the night was not complete without an encore: a solemn, yet rhapsodic rendition of their famed track “How It Ends.” Most of the crowd didn’t miss a single word, and seeing the immaculate joy on the bands’ faces show that they’re happier than ever to be back doing what they love.

LIVE REVIEW: Lydia Lunch Retrovirus @ Rickshaw Stop

The No Wave scene of 1970’s New York City was altogether bowel borne, the sickened spasm of a nihilist made nervous by the violent void of the Lower East Side. It was a pocket of time and space that knew no law nor order. Rather, it was poverty-ridden and putrid, little more than a decaying plane of filth and illness occupied by scum-soaking bums.

Enter Lydia Lunch – No Wave’s mainstay and New York’s bristling brat among rats. A runaway at 16, Lunch fled her family home in Rochester, New York, in favor of the gurgling gutter of NYC, licking the lyrical coattails of Jean Genet, Hubert Selby Jr, Marquis de Sade, and Henry Miller. In an interview for the Women of Rock Oral History Project, Lunch explains that the works of these writers stoked her drive to confront the trials of her own riotous reality, meaning mundanity was no longer a viable existence. Finally, the filth supplied by a sour mouth would be flavored female (although she’d likely contest the confinement of gendered categories).

Unsurprisingly, Lunch’s confrontational energy was highly anomalous among the saluted dudes of the local underground music scene at the time. In fact, many of her younger comrades thought her to be a “teenage terrorist,” with the exception of a few “weird old men,” including guitarist Robert Quine, who collaborated with the likes of Lou Reed, Richard Hell, and Brian Eno.

Thankfully, Lunch would go on to terrorize the masses through many mediums, including spoken word performance, literature, film, and music. A self-described “musical schizophrenic,” she incited delicious din in the ever-seminal No Wave group Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and proceeded to rasp her way through a number of bands over the course of her career: Beirut Slump, 8-Eyed Spy, Harry Crews, Big Sexy Noise, and finally, the live and writhing Retrovirus

Retrovirus is Lunch’s current outfit, along with drummer Bob Bert, bassist Tim Dahl, and guitarist Weasel Walter (also of Cellular Chaos). The self-described “sonic brutarians” recently took the stage at San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop. As Lunch rarely makes her rounds in the United States, I was eager to secure a ticket. My excitement was not misplaced.

Shortly after her stealthy entry, Miss Lunch greeted the audience with her special cocktail of snarl and stoicism, oozing authority and anti-appeasement. What occurred next could only be described as an all-out aural confrontation. Whilst Bert maintained a steady tremble on drums, the fingerwork of Dahl and Walter was at once phlegmatic and panic-ridden. Lunch punctuated their sonic thunder with fierce ease, a seeming conductor to the cauldron of clamor.

Towards the close of their all too short-lived set (“Snakepit Breakdown,” “Afraid of Your Company,” and “Mechanical Flattery” among the highlights), Lunch did not pussyfoot the expectation for an encore. “This is our last song, trust me. You can beg all you want. We’re not doing another one. We have one song, we’re doing that.” And so it was over. Quick and dirty, like a racy romp in one of her Richard Kern features. Despite my desire for another dose of din, the nonchalance of her dismissal proved startlingly refreshing in this age of social masquerade and appeasement sleaze. Don’t waste your cheerleading on this one.


LIVE REVIEW: Chelsea Wolfe @ Irving Plaza

If in the past Chelsea Wolfe has been called a “siren” and a “goddess,” atop the stage at Irving Plaza on Tuesday she was a towering banshee. Swathed in lengths of white cotton – with matching, armpit-high gauntlets, might I add – Wolfe commanded the sold-out crowd with pointed intensity. Wolfe’s tour comes hot on the heels of her 2017 LP Hiss Spun, and by the looks of ticket sales and the gargantuan purple tour bus parked outside Irving Plaza, must be going quite well.

Hiss Spun is Wolfe’s latest offering on longtime label Sargent House. The record is deeply varied, textural, and above all else: heavy. Part of Wolfe’s allure is her ability to craft dark and gruesome instrumental landscapes – often craggy and unwelcoming – and then invite the listener in with her radiant voice. It is a contrast that bodes surprisingly well live. Wolfe is one of those singers whose live vocals not only do the record justice – they sound better, somehow, in person.

As one would hope, Wolfe is an austere performer; she barely says a word between songs. Her black-clad backing band do their work with fervor and excitement, but never distract from the great white witch at center stage, piercing us with charcoal-rimmed eyes. They played a generous hour-plus set, bookending favorites from previous records, like “Carrion Flowers” and “Feral Love,” with material from Hiss Spun.

Wolfe treated us to a two-song encore, beginning with a solo acoustic performance of “Halfsleeper,” from her 2010 debut. Her isolated voice was all the more staggering, and even spooky given the season. It was only then that I noticed a large black “sun” suspended above her like a dark totem. Soon Wolfe’s band rejoined her, plunging into the heady sendoff of “Scrape,” awash in distortion. As she floated off the stage, it was apparent that Chelsea Wolfe’s performances allow her to embody many things – she’s a siren, goddess, and banshee all at once.

LIVE REVIEW: Sean Nicholas Savage & Dinner @ Baby’s All Right

The disco balls were in full force at Baby’s All Right last Saturday, where the night’s festivities could have easily marched under one banner: Night of the Weirdos. That is of course, the highest order of compliments coming from my fingers, and while I knew from firsthand experience what a bizarro Canadian crooner Sean Nicholas Savage is, I was delighted to find a kindred kook in Dinner.

Comprised of Danish singer/songwriter Anders Rhedin, with the assistance of a live guitarist affectionately referred to only as “Fielder,” Dinner was intent on making their set as fun as humanly possible. Rhedin succeeded. An angular New Romantic in a split-open, black blouse, the artist expertly intertwined goofs into his deadpan delivery. “This is a song about going out,” Rhedin droned before announcing, “This song is called ‘Going Out.’”

Prior to a banging rendition of “Girl” from 2015’s Three EPs, Rhedin instructed the entire room to “sit down,” before treating us to a sulky serenade from the center of our crouching bodies. Rhedin stood over us, a sparkling shroud of cloth dripping from his head, and then joined us on the ground for a good wriggle-around. As he rejoined Fielder onstage, Rhedin announced that “the genius Sean Nicholas Savage” was to join him onstage… only Sean was nowhere to be found. “Sean! SEAN!” he shouted, and the crowd followed suit, eventually succeeding in our beckoning.

The resulting duet was exceptional – contrasting Rhedin’s somber baritone with Savage’s gutsy falsetto. Savage swayed dreamily as Rhedin danced in typical Dinner fashion – which reads like someone getting ready in front of the mirror on prom night in an ‘80s film. On Saturday night, I can safely say that Dinner was served hot.

Sean Nicholas Savage is a much less kinetic performer than Dinner, for certain, but his command of a crowd is not reliant on bouncing around. In fact, he stays remarkably still while performing, his pipes doing most of the movement for him. In his early moments onstage he stood in blue-striped track pants and a dingy tank top. His closely cropped blue hair was the exact hue of his pant stripes by no accident. A saxophonist stood to his left, injecting even more sex appeal into Savage’s already sultry material.

Unfortunately, the saxophonist retreated offstage before long, leaving Savage with his only accompaniment: the backing tracks he plays from his phone. It may be a modern technique, but I’m certain that only a performer with the talent and charisma quotient of Savage could effectively pull it off. I still long for the day I can see him with a full band. Then again, if that day never comes, I’ll still gladly attend his gigs.

Ostensibly there to present new material from latest LP Yummycoma (released one day prior) Savage also swept through crowd favorites like “Chin Chin,” and “Everything Baby Blue” with his snarling and sweet voice, occasionally taking requests and reading the odd poem, (or “rant” as he labeled “Tarot Boys”). A pared down version of Alphaville’s “Forever Young” truly brought the house down, as did Savage’s encore: the strange and self-aware “Music” from 2016’s Magnificent Fist.

“I knew he was going to end with that!” a man in the audience joyfully shouted. And I knew that Sean Nicholas Savage would keep on keeping it weird.

LIVE REVIEW: Dead Leaf Echo @ Knitting Factory

There is no doubt about it – Brooklyn band Dead Leaf Echo’s brand new LP Beyond Desire is a fabulous stew of shoegaze, ’77 punk, pedals and reverb. Released late last week by PaperCup Music, the band’s sophomore album is expertly produced and mixed, resulting in a sonic meal you can really chew on. It was for this reason I was excited to attend their record release gig at Knitting Factory Brooklyn last Friday (the 13th, of course).

Opening band Parlor Walls – a local duo led by the charismatic Alyse Lamb – were a delight with their art rock set reminiscent of Talking Heads, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Slits. Lamb bounced around the stage in black sequin hot pants like a delinquent Rockette. The band’s most recent LP Opposites was released in March, 2017, and is certainly worth a listen. Glancing at their Bandcamp page, I notice a genre tag more relevant to their sound (and far catchier) than any I’ve mentioned or thought of: “trash jazz.” It’s just a shame it wouldn’t work as knuckle tats.

Dead Leaf Echo took the stage and plunged into their web of sound. Unfortunately, the mix for the evening was a bit murky, and it was difficult to distinguish front man LG’s 12-string guitar from Ana B’s six string riffs. This of course, was not the band’s fault, and is a frequent setback when playing New York’s smaller venues (and sometimes its bigger ones, too. See: Terminal 5).

As much as I enjoy their new record, Dead Leaf Echo’s stage presence left something to be desired on Friday night. Their performance seemed a bit stilted and self-important, which surprised me given the inherent silliness of their music videos. Then again, one less-than-rapturous gig doesn’t say anything about Dead Leaf Echo’s career as a whole, and it certainly doesn’t tarnish the fantastic collection of songs that is Beyond Desire.

LIVE REVIEW: Basilica Soundscape 2017

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Blanck Mass at Basilica Soundscape 2017. Photo by Samantha Marble/The Creative Independent

Day 1:

I knew this would happen. My one-person tent is sagging like ruined soufflé. Its support beams are in all the wrong holes, and the whole thing is yet to be staked in the ground. The bus for Basilica Soundscape leaves in one minute. At 5:59 in Meadowgreens Campground in Ghent, New York, I relinquish a losing battle with said tent, leaving it in a frightening half-mast tangle, and board the shuttle flushed with defeat. This row would have to be settled later. In the dark.

For a moment I feared that this tent dilemma would prevent me from enjoying myself at all. What if I kept dismembering and reconstructing the tent in my head all night, and missed all of the music surrounding me? It could happen. These obsessive thoughts ceased however, the moment I entered Basilica Hudson. The 18,000 square feet factory building was built in the 1880s, and has produced everything from railroad car wheels to glue, but these days its main export is art. In 2010, musician Melissa Auf der Maur and filmmaker Tony Stone acquired the building, transforming the space into a sanctuary for music, film, and visual art.

Basilica Soundscape offers all of these mediums at their finest. Often described as “the antifestival,” Basilica Soundscape is exactly that – the weekend of music, poetry, and visual art feeling far more intimate than the word “festival” suggests. In fact, Soundscape seems more akin to a house party hosted by wealthy eccentrics, or a wedding held in a medieval hamlet. Within minutes of surveying the grounds, it appeared as though all the romanticism and utopia promised by other festivals was actually here all along, from the rainbow arching across the sky to the flayed chickens sizzling on an open grill.

At 6:30 everyone funneled into the Main Hall, where openers Bing & Ruth plunged into a dizzying set that I can only describe as sounding like the ocean. Pianist David Moore’s technique was both dense and delicate, evoking a sense of moving through water. The blue light enrobing the musicians and the whale songs sung by cello and clarinet added to the seascape of sound. Even the stage decorations seemed marine in nature; plumes of pink silk hung from the ceiling, dissolving into tendrils of rope and swaying like jellyfish. It was only after Bing & Ruth left the stage that I realized they were hand-dyed parachutes and not aquatic invertebrates.

On the other end of the decibel spectrum, Philadelphia’s Moor Mother (aka Camae Ayewa) annihilated all previous serenity with her serrated poetry and beats. Ayewa stabbed through her set, entangling herself in the parachute ropes and assaulting the crowd with glass-shattering backing tracks and car crash raps. Ayewa’s brand of hyper-politicized poetry utilizes the distortion of punk and the rage of metal to potent effect. Her command of the crowd was immense; when Moor Mother demands that you “hug your motherfucking neighbor!” and “slow dance!” you’d be wise to do so. And we did.

The next best display of aggression was black metal band Thou, who filled Basilica’s smaller North Hall with bowel-shuddering screams and swampy instrumentation. Next, Tunisian artist Emel Mathlouthi had everyone looking upwards, as she performed from the building’s rafters, her colossal voice bellowing from above. For one last dose of drama, Baltimore’s Serpentwithfeet charmed us with his occult gospel. Singer and musician Josiah Wise – the snake in question – is always mesmerizing live, as he summons the spirits of Nina Simone, Josephine Baker, and Aleister Crowley. He is a poised and diverse performer, able to traverse songs about mourning with his operatic pipes, and then whip the audience into fits of laughter with his wry wit.

A far less verbal artist, Indiana’s JLIN closed out Friday night with her hard-driving electronic collages, often splicing horror movie screams with chopper-like drum beats. JLIN’s set was weaponized and dense, but that didn’t stop a pack of men from breaking into arrhythmic dance moves in the audience, convulsing like electrocuted lab rats under the strobe lights. I hoped to harness their energy for later…I still had a tent to set up.

Day 2:

Basilica’s second day was filled with far more fury than its first. Notable early sets from Yellow Eyes and Yvette got our blood pumping right off the bat. The former filled the North Hall with unrelenting drums and ear-piercing screams. Fog hung around the black metal trio, while two wrought iron candelabras added a solemnity to their set, which was dedicated to a late friend of the band.

Brooklyn’s noise duo Yvette played a wealth of new material on the main stage, opening with the older, hard-hitting “Radiation” before treating us to new songs. Rumor has it the pair are currently recording another album, and their Basilica set was a delightful preview. The energy harnessed by lead singer/guitarist Noah Kardos-Fein and drummer Dale Elsinger was strategically focused on Saturday, only improving their intensity as performers. If Yvette were previously men of chaos, they now appear to be mad scientists, fiddling with knobs and emitting blips and whirrs amidst controlled fury.

There was unfortunately some overlap during sets by Priests and Protomartyr, but I was able to catch a bit of both. Priests commanded the large stage expertly, lead singer Katie Alice Greer stalking the stage in a spangled mini dress like The Runaways’ Cherie Currie. On the other side of the building, Protomartyr channeled FEAR and The Fall with a one-two punch of distilled punk rock.

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Priests at Basilica Soundscape 2017. Photo by Samantha Marble/The Creative Independent

We looked to the rafters one last time for readings by Morgan Parker, Darcie Wilder, and Hole drummer Patty Schemel, who read excerpts from her new memoir Hit So Hard. Schemel’s tales of Kurt, Courtney, and rock n’ roll abounded before Blanck Mass’s Benjamin John Power mounted the smoke-cloaked main stage. The technical headliner for 2017’s Basilica Soundscape was Zola Jesus, but for me, it was Blanck Mass, whose diabolical wall of sound is more a physical experience than a purely sonic one. Power ripped through tracks off his latest LP World Eater, churning out frenzied tapestries like “John Doe’s Carnival of Error” and slow grinding dance cuts like “Please.” Power is obscured during most of his sets, dressed in black and barely visible within the fog and flashes of light. In this sense, he becomes more entity than man – more furious gospel than mere entertainment.

So what was my takeaway from Basilica Soundscape 2017? Go every summer, bring ear plugs, try the chicken, and definitely get to know your tent before next year.


LIVE REVIEW: RBMA Celebrates 10 Years of Sacred Bones Records

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Jenny Hval performs at Sacred Bones 10th Anniversary, part of Red Bull Music Academy Festival, at Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, in Brooklyn, NY, USA on 20 May 2017.
Photo by Ysa Perez.

Who says witchy things don’t go down in daylight? The event designer for Sacred Bones’ 10 Year Anniversary bash certainly wanted us to feel the darkness, despite the concert’s sunny 4pm start. The Brooklyn-born record label teamed up with the Red Bull Music Academy Festival on Saturday for seven straight hours of music. The impressive lineup boasted the best of Sacred Bones’ alumni, including sets from Genesis P-Orridge (of Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle), Uniform, Marissa Nadler, Psychic Ills, Moon Duo with Jim Jarmusch, The Men, Jenny Hval, Blanck Mass, and Zola Jesus.

Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse was a sight last weekend– bathed in white smoke and thoroughly branded with Sacred Bones’ occult insignia. Blazing neon triangles were the focal point of the room’s two stages, and if anyone has seen the new horror film The Void, they may have found these symbols a touch unsettling. Columnar black cages rose to the ceiling, filled with red and blue light – I crossed my fingers for cage dancers, but sadly, none appeared. Perhaps the most noticeable detail was the massive fabric moon that hung above the center of the audience, illuminating different colors throughout the night.

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Atmosphere at Sacred Bones 10th Anniversary, part of Red Bull Music Academy Festival, at Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, in Brooklyn, NY, USA on 20 May 2017.
Photo by Colin Kerrigan

It was an intense tableau to enter; I was so overwhelmed by the fog machine and the imposing triangle shrines that I thought I saw a large raven out of the corner of my eye. It was a mic stand.

Time for a beer. As I ordered my 4pm libation I noticed that even the cocktails were cultish in theme, as one of them was called a “Ritual.” Very metal.

Genesis P-Orridge was the first to take stage, backed by percussionist Edely Odowd and Benjamin John Power of Blanck Mass. It was perhaps the most unsettling set of the evening, as Power knows well the discomfort buttons on his synthesizer, and P-Orridge reserves only the worst words for her anti-humanist poetry. It wasn’t a humorless performance however. After a scathing indictment of people who live in “Williamsburg…in the apartment your dad paid for,” and who “look like everyone else,” she warned us: “that was the nice song.” Looking around I saw dozens of people in motorcycle jackets like my own, and wondered if she was singing about us.

Three acts in, Marissa Nadler’s dreamy set was a welcome respite from P-Orridge’s vitriol and hardcore duo Uniform’s unbridled rage. The Boston-based folk singer added a hushed beauty to the evening; her weightless voice floating towards us on beams of purple smoke. She seemed especially fragile framed by the neon geometry and stark cages, but her dark melodies were nourishing after two harsh, a-melodic performances.

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Marissa Nadler performs at Sacred Bones 10th Anniversary, part of Red Bull Music Academy Festival, at Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, in Brooklyn, NY, USA on 20 May 2017.
Photo by Ysa Perez.

New Yorkers Psychic Ills continued this melodious excursion with an atmospheric set that merged psych rock, stoner metal, country, and soul. However it wasn’t atmospheric in sound alone; someone was having a bit of a field day with the fog machine. The band became so enveloped in smoke that I was unaware how many people were onstage. I seemed to hear a pedal steel being played – but no pedal steel player could be found. At one point, I could see literally everything in the room…except for the band.

Despite Moon Duo’s alliance with filmmaker/guitarist Jim Jarmusch (making them, undoubtedly, Moon Trio), their droning set was the night’s most snooze-able. Maybe I just wasn’t close enough to see the nuanced facial expressions under Jarmusch’s sunglasses as he did his best Thurston Moore impression, or perhaps it was a matter of sound quality. “The singer’s mic wasn’t even on in that first couple songs,” a friend said to me after the band unplugged. I was mystified. “There were vocals?” But then again, this could have been part of Moon Duo’s plan, as the lengthy “About” section on their website points out that “the root of the word occult is that which is hidden, concealed, beyond the limits of our minds.” And our ears.

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Jim Jarmusch performs with Moon Duo at Sacred Bones 10th Anniversary, part of Red Bull Music Academy Festival, at Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, in Brooklyn, NY, USA on 20 May 2017.
Photo by Colin Kerrigan.

Five bands, three hours, and two beers in, it was time for a cigarette. It was also time for the lady in pink to arrive. Just as I stubbed out my butt on the warehouse wall, a woman gingerly approached the venue in a hot pink puffy blouse and trousers to match. Her black hair was twisted around her head, and a sheer, flowered fascinator partially concealed her face. She looked like Pagliacci the clown dipped in Manic Panic. Intrigued, I followed her in – but she dissolved in the crowd awaiting Jenny Hval.

Hval took the trophy for most visually arresting set that night. Light beamed down in fine, white-hot needles, forming a pyramid shrine around the singer. Beacons of purple and blue smoke billowed like storm clouds trapped in a prism, and strobes of broken halogen stripes radiated around the stage. As much of a performance artist as she is a songwriter, Hval orchestrated some potent images for us. She and her entire band sported shiny, black wigs and dark velvet tunics, making them look like Druids against all the iconography. At one point, a bandmate crept up behind Hval with a pair of scissors in hand and cut her “hair” while she continued to sing. Hval clutched the cut tendrils and occasionally threw them towards us.

The mischief didn’t stop there, however. Hval’s wigged tuba player-cum-barber eventually snatched a woman from the audience – a woman, with REAL hair – and readied their shears. “We should have some more light for a haircut, don’t you think?” Hval cooed.  She serenaded her victim as the barber snipped away.

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Jenny Hvala performs at Sacred Bones 10th Anniversary, part of Red Bull Music Academy Festival, at Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, in Brooklyn, NY, USA on 20 May 2017.
Photo by Colin Kerrigan

If Hval’s set got the blue ribbon for optical titillation, then Benjamin John Power’s one-man-army Blanck Mass took the prize for audible precision. Blanck Mass’ abrasive set felt like a new gospel baptizing us in rage and mayhem. Power’s music is so densely packed, it behaves as an ecosystem of sound, home to numerous species: metal, R&B, EDM, soul, and noise.

Blanck Mass’ prowess at electronic composition has become irrefutable with his most recent LP World Eater, but now I know how well it translates live – something I was concerned about at the start of Saturday. The relentless hour of glitchy, weaponized noise felt oddly soothing, yet incited a series of dance-like convulsions that were no more within my control than the music itself.

As it turned out, I was not the only audience member enraptured with Blanck Mass; to my left, the woman in pink was rocking back and forth, shouting “wooh!” and occasionally sipping her Ritual. She occupied the space right next to a gargantuan monitor – a place too loud even for me. Within minutes, a man standing close by noticed my blatant gawping at the neon jester, and playfully nudged, “The girl in pink is part of the show, eh?”

I looked back at him. “That’s Björk,” I asserted.

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Blanck Mass performs at Sacred Bones 10th Anniversary, part of Red Bull Music Academy Festival, at Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, in Brooklyn, NY, USA on 20 May 2017.
Photo by Colin Kerrigan.

After being effectively knocked out by Blanck Mass and a Björk sighting, I wasn’t entirely sure how the evening could be topped – which is perhaps because I’d never seen Zola Jesus live before. Lead singer and dark mastermind Nika Roza Danilova was fiercely energetic as Saturday’s headliner, bounding back and forth onstage and engaging in some serious fist pumping.

A truly dynamic performer, Danilova was panting and shrieking one moment, and blowing us over with her arena-reaching vocals the next – all the while maintaining a severe air of seduction. The theatrical performance was grounded by Zola Jesus the band, whose minimalist violin brought to mind a more foreboding Arthur Russell.

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Zola Jesus performs at Sacred Bones 10th Anniversary, part of Red Bull Music Academy Festival, at Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, in Brooklyn, NY, USA on 20 May 2017.
Photo by Ysa Perez.

Throughout the evening, there was one consistent remark made by artists onstage (or at least the ones who spoke): “I’d like to thank the Sacred Bones family.” On the label’s website, Sacred Bones bill themselves as “a family affair,” too. At first the notion freaked me out a bit with its cult implications. What kind of family we talkin’ here? Manson? Addams? But at the night’s close, after running into more people I knew than any other concert in the past nine years, I realized that maybe “family” is the best word. After all, a good record label does tend to bring people together. With such a talented roster – and fans like Björk and Jim Jarmusch – Sacred Bones’ RBMA Festival anniversary show is one reunion I’d gladly attend again.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

LIVE REVIEW: Perfume Genius @ Brooklyn Steel

An unexpected warmth greets me at Brooklyn Steel. Defying the industrial structure, a pink tropical backdrop hangs over a stage flanked by palm fronds, which seem to wave at the sold-out crowd. It is a set-up that hints at one of two possible realities: 1) A lush, theatrical performance by headliner Perfume Genius is in store. 2) The atmosphere is merely consistent with their recent press shots.

I am desperately hoping for the former, but having never before seen Mike Hadreas and company in concert, the night’s fate is unknown. Fortunately, the décor suits opening act Serpentwithfeet just fine. The occult-gospel-cum-jazz outfit helmed by Josiah Wise opens with sparse, chilling pieces. I say pieces because “song” seems too limiting a word for the confessional poems and trip hop ballads sprinkled throughout Serpentwithfeet’s set; perhaps “spells” would be more fitting. Wise conveys great range as a vocal performer and pianist, yes, but also in his wit and charisma, which has the early-bird crowd tearfully singing along one moment and laughing the next. I can’t help but wonder if his theatrics will be echoed by Hadreas.

My thirst for drama is quenched the moment Perfume Genius appears, slinking on stage to the violent, Rococo strings of “Choir” from their recent LP No Shape. Hadreas saunters towards us in a white Byron blouse tucked into a pinstripe jumpsuit – the latter looking like it once strutted the runways of Vivienne Westwood.

It is such a powerful entrance, that I’m nearly knocked over when the four piece then open with “Otherside.” In its first minute, No Shape’s commencing track disguises itself as a fragile piano ballad – a lullaby even. But after Hadreas coos, “rocking you to sleep from the otherside,” a cannon of bass, glitter, and wailing angels is shot through our organs, leaving us shuddering and primed for more.

“Otherside” is the one moment of austerity before Hadreas changes shape, shifting into an undulating lord of seduction; part Morrissey, part Annie Lennox, and part Peter Pan. He gyrates and circles his hips, popping one pale shoulder out of his crisp shirt and then slipping it back in again. Hadreas is at his most vampish on cuts like “Go Ahead” and the dark Elvis romp “My Body” off of 2014’s breakout album Too Bright.

Thunderous jungle drums sew the set together, adding a sinister undercurrent to the evening. The performance feels slightly intoxicating; like, say, a fine perfume should. I find myself wrapped in chills throughout, and plumbed with pumping hot blood. Hadreas is the performer we’ve been waiting for. He whets our appetite with opulent musicality and erotic posturing, but nourishes us with complex song structure, poignant lyrics, and gorgeous instrumentation. He is, as they say, a package deal.

Such a package in fact, that little whiffs of his component scents start cropping up as he performs. I’m smelling Kate Bush, Little Richard, Portishead, The Cramps, Madame Butterfly, and the soundtrack to Twin Peaks. But like a fragrance, the sum of its parts reveals something entirely new when mixed properly.

During Perfume Genius’ five-song encore (a formality I typically hate, but was ecstatic for in this situation) Hadreas sat down for a piano rendition of “Mr. Peterson,” from his debut record Learning. Before he began, he motioned long-time boyfriend and bandmate Alan Wyffels to the keyboard, where they played a duet to an ooh-ing audience. And then, the band reassembled for the one moment I’d predicted correctly all evening: the finale was Too Bright’s shining anthem “Queen.” But despite my suspicions, Hadreas did not sashay away at the song’s end. He simply walked, and waved, and thanked us.

LIVE REVIEW: Girl Band @ Saint Vitus

It’s been a year since I last saw Girl Band, and I’m a bit more prepared this time around.

Boots: check.

Pulled-back hair: check.

Pre-show snack: check.

Purse-less. That’s the big one. After getting caught in a swirl of flailing bodies at their last New York gig, I’ve consolidated my belongings into a jacket instead.

Phone. Gum. Tiny notebook.

Wallet. Keys. Tiny pen.

Advil. An appetizer amount of rage – just enough for dancing.

It’s not a daily anger I’m bringing to Saint Vitus, but a squirrel’s store of frustration easily disposed of after one of Girl Band’s sets. But that catharsis is contingent on one thing: will there be jumping? As the Irish four-piece crash into their first song, I am not so sure. The sold-out crowd is motionless, justifying the worst of New York audience clichés. Even Girl Band seemed on the “mellow” side, whatever that means for an a-melodic noise group. Had I prepared too much? Was I holding an umbrella on a dry day? I felt a bit stupid, sweating in a heavy, overfilled jacket while other women wore lightweight shirts and clutched purses, visibly more comfortable than I.

One, three, five songs passed. Lead singer Dara Kiley guzzled water as the representative Irish audience members heckled lovingly, shouting highly original material such as “IRELAND!” and “Come on IRELAND!” I was beginning to worry I’d suited up for nothing, and that my little supply of ferocity would dissolve into its truer state: hangriness.

What I’d forgotten about is Girl Band’s ability to leverage potential energy throughout their sets. Despite their untethered sound, Girl Band are not chaotic. They approach their performances with surgical precision, exuding more focus than blind fury. Like EDM mega DJs, they conduct the pulse of the room with each song – knowing exactly when to break it down, stretch a measure, and drop the beat like an anvil from 12 stories up. I suddenly remember this as the band break into a patch of new songs, which are structured far more like deep jungle techno cuts than noise punk thrashers. One is purely instrumental; with a driving drum rhythm that demands movement. Bassist Daniel Fox and guitarist Alan Duggan practice maximum restraint as they advance and recede in volume – something that whips us into a bit of a state. We are dancing. It is not enough, but it is all part of the plan.

Anticipation. Swans have volume; The Flaming Lips have props; Girl Band has anticipation. Feeding off the frenzy of a crowd primed for a unanimous tantrum, they know precisely when to strike with the big guns. So when they burst into “Pears For Lunch” off of 2015’s Holding Hands With Jamie, the vibrating build-up of tension bursts into kinetic energy. The jumping and shoving ensues.

If Girl Band were once taken to task for not actually being girls, then their use of the word “band” might also be questionable. If a band plays songs on instruments, what does Girl Band play? Are their records made of songs? Or riots? Are they playing their instruments? Or assaulting them? Arguably only drummer Adam Faulkner is approaching his instrument in a “traditional” way, while Duggan and Fox manipulate theirs; Fox making a slide guitar of his bass with a beer bottle, and Duggan beating his guitar like a drum. Even Kiley would be ill-described as a “singer,” as he often utilizes his serrated scream rhythmically. I can’t help but notice this calculated nature of theirs on stage; it has become all the more apparent now that the crowd has burst into unruly motion.

The last three songs are blood-boilers; we are fiendishly pleased when Faulkner strikes the opening beat to “Lawman.” By now I am steeped in sweat, attempting to regulate my breath between verses like a swimmer I saw on TV one time. I’m probably doing it wrong. After a stabbing six minutes of “Lawman,” Girl Band launch into “Paul,” and my suspicion that they were saving the most incendiary tracks for last is confirmed.

Perhaps Girl Band have mastered a kind of regimented wrath; micro-dosing with madness. Their work is an example of what anger can achieve when it is sharpened to a fine, sparkling point. Freud called it sublimation, but for Girl Band it is merely the creative process. As they arrive at their final song, Kiley thanks the crowd. The quartet rip into “The Cha Cha Cha” – a 29-second, distorted shout storm. A bite-sized bit of rage.

LIVE REVIEW: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith @ Knockdown Center

When Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith met the Buchla 100 electronic synthesizer, it was love at first listen. She was studying composition Berklee College of Music in Boston, intending to use vocals, classical guitar and piano in her work; she had even formed an indie-folk band called Ever Isles. But the Buchla 100 changed the way she wanted to make music; the vintage modulated synth offered a seemingly limitless array of sounds and possibilities, and Smith’s musical arc was forever altered. With the release of EARS last April (her second via Western Vinyl), Smith broke a glass ceiling of sorts; most of the more well-known names in ambient and experimental music belong to men like Brian Eno, Tim Hecker, Max Richter, Tom Carter, Keith Fullerton Whitman, William Basinski, Daniel Lopatin, Christian Fennesz, Nicholas Jaar, Axel Willner. Women in ambient music – like Moog pioneer Wendy Carlos Williams, Laurie Spiegel, Grouper’s Liz Harris, Julianna Barwick, or Noveller’s Sarah Lipstate – seem to be fewer and farther between, but Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s gorgeous, burbling soundscapes help bridge those gaps.

Smith told Redbull Music Academy that she often composes visually, creating rhythms that mimic visions and colors in her mind’s eye. These translate, eventually, to the visuals she uses when she performs live. At Knockdown Center on Friday – a hundred-year-old former door factory in Maspeth, Queens – Smith hunched over her Buchla Music Easel (a smaller, more accessible version of the Buchla 100), its glow softly illuminating her face from below with an otherworldly light. Behind her, videos of refracted light broken through various prisms swirled and swelled as Smith recreated tracks from EARS and Euclid, her 2015 release, the music floating through the rough-hewn space as purple spotlights flashed outside, the low-end rumbling along rafters and rusty support beams.

Like that refracted light, Smith’s patches spun and shuddered, dimming and then shimmering with bright surges. Thick globs of bass seemed to drip from the ceiling and then yawn open, fusing with patterns of woodwind overlay, Smith twisting knobs until the space was throbbing. She sang into a headset, manipulating her vocals so that in addition to her breathy natural register, there were underlying robotic and alien tones in lower and higher registers – not quite in harmony with one another, but sliding across one another like the reverberations of a tuning fork, at once glassy and metallic. The brilliant melding of human and machine made Smith’s music seem less coldly futuristic and more like a delicately rendered moment exactly for now, still warmed by flesh and blood but with aspirations for cosmological expansion.

LIVE REVIEW: Hayes Peebles at Rockwood Music Hall

Hayes Peebles packed Rockwood Music Hall February 23, where he soothed listeners with his charming vocals and calming aura. Backed by a full band, Peebles showcased his newly released EP Ghosts, and with it, the New York-based singer/songwriter also delivered a much-needed tranquility to the city.

The night was filled with swooning and swaying to Peebles’ laid-back folk music. Peebles has a sound that borders on country in certain songs, with backup “ooh’s” and “aah’s” that could easily be replaced with a “yeehaw.” It’s as Americana as it gets, down to the blue jeans and flannel that Peebles sported onstage.

Peebles creates music that does a remarkable job of dredging up old memories, recalling the feeling of falling in love with someone new, a first heartbreak, a life-changing loss. His tracks are emotional and packed with passion, particularly “Eulogy,” from his new EP. Down-tempo with emotional builds, the cyclical nature of the song perfectly exemplifies the ups and down one goes through after suffering a heart-wrenching loss—one day it feels like everything is getting back to normal only to get hit by the next day, which is full of crushing despair.

He also made his way through other EP singles, “Home,” “Short and Sweet,” and the titular track. “Ghosts” brings it back to simpler times; it’s nostalgic and idyllic, a track made for lingering in the past. To Peebles, the ghosts we know are not always departed loved ones who haunt us, but do live on as the spirits of our memories.

Hayes Peebles’ music will make you yearn for your childhood home, friends, and experiences again. It’s the perfect music to listen to on a chilly fall afternoon—or a warm almost-spring night, packed alongside a bunch of strangers lost in their own memories.

Listen to the Ghosts EP below:

LIVE REVIEW: The Radio Dept. @ Union Transfer


Swedish dream-pop outfit The Radio Dept. has long been revered for combining a mellow haze and hypnotic beats since forming in 2001. Live, this translates to a singular live experience that hits somewhere between being stress-free and imaginatively demanding. Their U.S. tour in support of Running Out of Love (which came out in October of last year via Labrador Records after long delays due to legal battles with the label) kicked off in Philadelphia on Valentine’s Day, and proved to be a  thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable show.

A former baggage depot in Callowhill, Union Transfer was a fun change from the packed NYC locales I’m used to. It’s intimate and architecturally dramatic but still has a casual feel, with quick, friendly bouncers and a no-alchohol-on-the-floor policy that limits both excessive drunkenness and the nightmare of getting beer sloshed all over your shoes – perfect for Radio Dept. and their meditative set.

The band took to the stage quietly but began with a bang, playing a few songs from Running Out of Love, which has a more steady, rhythmic and electronic focus than a lot of their past music. This branching out of their comfort zone brought the album critical acclaim, but the new material wasn’t their only concentration on stage. The show featured plenty of old crowd favorites from the 2006’s Pet Grief and 2003 debut Lesser Matters, as well as their last proper full-length, Clinging to a Scheme, released in 2010. “David” and “Heaven’s On Fire,” both from Clinging to a Scheme, seemed to be big crowd-pleasers, while “Death to Fascism,” a single released in 2014, saw the band at its most exciting and dovetailed nicely with the subtle political messages on Running Out of Love.

With its impressive treble and the infectious robotic call of “Smrt fašizmu, sloboda narodu!” (Croatian for “Death to fascism, freedom to the people”), the single had sparked new interest  in the band after a four year hiatus. Fans had shouted out its request all evening, and while it is doubtful that the heckling had much to do with its eventual delivery, the crowd’s hunger for this song seemed directly tied to the current American political climate. The band spoke through the messages in the music, rather than offering political speeches – frontman Johan Duncanson only spoke between songs to say “thank you” and “thank you very much.” He attributed this “shyness” to the fact that it was their first show on the U.S. leg of their tour. This quietness was reflective of the calm and repetitive motions of the music, a parallel I could certainly respect.

Everyone on stage – even frontman Duncanson – played multi-instrumentalist, switching between bass, percussion and synths. Even though every song had some pre-recorded element (due to the band’s electronic nature) there was a lot of power in the live aspects. The guitar parts were especially rousing; after various intensely rhythmic openings with limited or specific melodies, the guitar and vocals would break in and remind us that The Radio Dept. always tends to its dreamy qualities. There’s something plainly stunning about the combination of more dance-like beats and echoing, fuzzy shoegaze.

The high energy instrumentals from Running Out of Love were significant in keeping the audience from falling into a mesmerized daze. There was plenty of dancing to go with that mesmeric feeling and, although it was disjointed and varied from person to person (a couple basically dirty dancing on side of the floor, a fantastic bald man with glasses and a wool sweater with some incredibly unique and memorable moves, clearly in his own little world, on the other), there was a general agreement with the flow and mood of the music. Everyone bobbed their heads in some kind of unison.

At the heart of this performance was the inexplicable ease to the band’s sound. The songs were layered and complex, but they were effortlessly organic on stage. This contributed more to the natural ambience: heavy-lidded eyes and loose limbs. Buried somewhere in that was a covert political criticism of Sweden that unfortunately applies to the U.S. as well. Closing out with pop-forward “Swedish Gun” single, the clubby “Teach Me to Forget,” and the ominous “Occupied,” all from Running Out of Love, served as a reminder that dancing and resistance are not mutually exclusive.

The Radio Dept. close out their tour with two shows in New York, at Bowery Ballroom March 8 and Music Hall of Williamsburg March 9; the rest of the dates are listed here.

LIVE REVIEW: Austra @ Warsaw

There aren’t a whole lot of pop stars that are moved by The Accelerationist Manifestothe philosophical text penned by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. In fact, I’d feel safe waging that Austra’s Future Politics is the only electro pop LP to be inspired by the post-capitalist school of philosophy.

Crudely put, Accelerationism in its left-wing iteration is the eventual deterioration of capitalism by way of its own expansion – the theory that capitalism will asphyxiate from dwindling oxygen in a room it has outgrown. Metaphors that come immediately to mind include the metastasizing of cancer cells, and Violet Beauregarde from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Violet is so inundated with the object of her desire (gum) that she expands and near explodes. The desired object, in excess, is her demise.

All of this is rolling around in my head as I stand in a large crowd at Greenpoint’s Warsaw, waiting for Katie Stelmanis and company to appear on stage. Admittedly, I am a newcomer to Austra’s music, but I suspect I am the only one, as the room buzzes with anticipation around me. I reflect on Austra’s video for their new record’s title track, and wonder if it was inspired just a teensy bit by John Carpenter’s Orwellian film They Live.

The music video opens with a manifesto of its own:

“How do we find hope when things seem so bleak?

For me, hope lies in the future. It lies in the potential of a future world that doesn’t exist yet; a world can be created only if we can imagine it. It’s time to build visions that are radically different from anything we’ve known before. 

It’s time for future politics.”

Austra’s music videos are frequently narrative, and “Future Politics” bears no exception. Aerial shots depict hoards of unconcerned citizens on autopilot – walking to work like zombies in a shining but sterile metropolis. Like Rowdy Roddy Piper’s (RIP) character in They Live, Austra’s subjects undergo an awakening, signaled by a bloody nose and epileptic dance moves.

“I don’t wanna hear/That it’s all my fault,” Stelmanis sings. “The system won’t help you when/Your money runs out.”

They are forever changed after their revolutionary activation, and find refuge amongst like-minded outcasts on the edge of town, relishing in the little nature that is left for them.

At Warsaw, the stage is bathed in carmine light. Stelmanis seems fond of the color red, as it overwhelms the cover of Future Politics and many of the singer’s outfits. I can’t help but feel that it’s intentional – the sanguine shade of revolution, love, and anger. One of three keyboards is emblazoned with the words “BRIGHT MUSIC, DARK TIMES.” On the corners of the stage, orange “flame” props blow around like air dancers at a car dealership. When Austra finally take the stage, (Stelmanis in a long crimson dress) they burst without hesitation into Future Politics’ opening track, “We Were Alive,” which exhibits Stelmanis’ otherworldly voice. Live, the song gives me chills, in part for its musicality, but also for its beautiful bleakness. “What if we were alive?” Stelmanis bellows. I wish I had the answer to her question.

Austra plays several songs from their new LP, all in album order. Stelmanis says very little between songs, which surprises me slightly. Due to the political nature of the record, I half expected some rhetoric – words of upheaval or inspiration at the very least. But perhaps her music is enough. Art has been a medium of dissent since its birth; you don’t need a sermon to understand that George Orwell was critical of the government, or that Francis Bacon wasn’t a big fan of the Catholic Church.

But understanding the subtext of art doesn’t guarantee a revolution. Art will always reflect our societal consciousness, whether intended by its maker or not. The artist is a medium through which we understand our world. Art is inevitable. Action is up to us.

Check out Austra’s latest video, “I Love You More Than You Love Your Self,” below. Future Politics is out now on Domino Records.

LIVE REVIEW: Blue Healer at Rockwood Music Hall


Set the scene in your mind: An intimate setting at Rockwood Music Hall complete with dimmed lights, a hazy atmosphere, and a collection of swooning, folky, country-esque music courtesy of Blue Healer. Can you feel the relaxation and good vibes? Great. Then you now understand exactly what it was like seeing them perform last Wednesday.


It was a mixture of synths and keys as well as heavy basslines and distorted upright bass. At times, the music had an older glam rock feel, surreal and ethereal, reverberating throughout your mind. Then it would transform to a folk, country-esque show complete with energetic synths — pop folk, if you will. A lot of their songs called to mind tracks of Melee and The Black Keys.


The trio hailing from Austin recently released their debut self-titled album and played an array of tracks from it (and also tracks not on it). They played their popular single “30,000 Feet,” which was full of airy vocals from frontman and bassist David Beck and otherworldly synths from keyboardist Bryan Mammel. They also slowed things down when they played “Only the Rain,” with synths that perfectly emphasized its gentle nature. When they played “Empty Bottles” is when I really felt The Black Keys vibes from them (never a bad thing).

Their last song, “Bad Weather,” was an empowering, anthemic note to end on. But fortunately, it also wasn’t quite the end, as the crowd pretty much begged for an encore, and Blue Healer happily obliged. So their real last track, “Like Diamonds,” ended up being a way more fun way to go out. It was energetic and upbeat, complemented by crashing cymbals and a big finale drumline as well as contagious energy from the band who genuinely looked like they were having the time of their life.

As a show I went into hardly knowing the band, I was pleasantly surprised and had a great time. It also helps when the band is skilled at their instruments and loves what they’re doing, too.

LIVE REVIEW: Taking Back Sunday at Irving Plaza


In high school, I heard from all my friends that Taking Back Sunday was the best show they had ever seen. They raved and bragged, and yet, I never saw them live myself. It was one of my biggest regrets—until now. On September 30, I finally saw Taking Back Sunday perform at Irving Plaza.

Now, my expectations were exceedingly high, so perhaps they were destined to fall short. But as thrilled as I was to relive my emo days, the first half of the show left me a bit bored and uninterested. Once they played the songs from Tell all Your Friends and Louder Now, I got my second wind and felt revitalized by the show. However, the first half had me feeling somewhat sleepy and disconnected.


TBS released their newest album, Tidal Wave, this year. And while I didn’t completely study up and try to memorize every song, that’s mostly because I was pretty turned off by it upon first listen. To me, it sounded like a forced attempt at punk, and the tracks I heard fell flat. But I missed the screaming, and I missed the broken hearts worn on sleeves. Mostly I missed the Taking Back Sunday of the early 2000s.


When they sang their older tracks, you could hardly hear frontman Adam Lazzara sing as he was drowned out by the enthusiastic crowd. “MakeDamnSure.” “Cute Without the ‘E.'” “There’s No ‘I’ in Team.” “You’re So Last Summer.” The old classics struck as if it were 2004 and we were all brushing up on Fuse before heading to the show. And, of course, the mic swings were there.

Overall, unfortunately, it wasn’t the best show I’d ever seen in 2016, but I’m confident that if I had seen in back in their heyday, it probably would’ve gone down in my concert-going history as an all-time best.


Remind yourself of “You’re So Last Summer” below.

LIVE REVIEW: Peter Bjorn and John @ Webster Hall

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Photos by Aaron Tian for AudioFemme.

Three revered names in indie pop made their presences known before a simple light display akin to a cross between an electrocardiogram and a music staff. You have the sharply dressed bassist Björn Yttling donning a blazer, while drummer John Eriksson took his seat behind the kit, standing out in a simple white baseball cap. Finally, lead singer and guitarist Peter Morén positions himself at the other end of the stage in what resembles a utility suit. All three are unified in their look with an array of the band’s patches on their navy blue outfits, as well as name tags  – you know, in case you forgot who you were there to see.

Morén quipped that back in 2000, they signed a contract stating that if anyone left the band, they had to replace him with somebody of the same name. Fast forward sixteen years and seven records later, and Peter Bjorn and John are back with an even more danceable new sound that challenges the classic definition of pop music and conveys no less energy in the live show.


Peter jumped over the barrier of the pit early on to walk around the crowd during “It Don’t Move Me,” for a rock ‘n’ roll display – “I’m not a big fan of rock,” he says.  “Rock ‘n’ roll, on the other hand, it’s kinda sexy.” – which set the tone for the etiquette of the evening: dance with complete disregard for the space around you, and don’t stop moving.

While this tour spotlights the most infectious pop tracks off the new record, Breakin’ Point, a taste of each of their previous records worked seamlessly into the mix:  a performance of “Eyes” that highlighted Bjorn’s talent on bass, Peter guiding the crowd through a singalong of “Dig A Little Deeper,” and John’s command over the slowed down breakbeat of “Amsterdam,” which brought back memories for both me and the girl behind me, who said that “every song from 2007 just flashed in [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][her] mind.”


Along with bringing outside producers into the mix for Breakin’ Point, two new touring members have accompanied the band this time around, allowing them to achieve a live sound closer to what you hear on their records.  Peter took the time out to introduce the two “dear friends and talented musicians,” Freja on backing vocals and percussion, and Klaus on the computer and keyboard.  In addition, Julian Harmon of POP ETC took over on the bongos while Freja took center stage as the female counterpart in “Young Folks,” the hipster whistle song that just turned ten this year.

But Peter Bjorn and John continue to prove over and over again that they are beyond capable of getting more than just that song and “Second Chances” stuck in your head for days on end. Closing out the show with “I Know You Don’t Love Me,” which is no slower but a bit more mellow, the trio still makes use of the whole stage and every ounce of vitality left in them during the song’s extended instrumental bridge.


The upbeat intensity of the live performance showcases the harmony that makes Peter Bjorn and John work so well together.  As Peter said, “You meet someone, you do some things, 10 years later you have a family.”[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]