LIVE REVIEW: Sharps, Jessica Audiffred, G-Rex at Hollywood Palladium

When we last caught up with Mexico City-based DJ Jessica Audiffred in 2016, she was putting out high-energy, catchy tracks like the future bass masterpiece “Higher,” the trappy “K.O.,” the intense “GTFB,” and her infectious remix of Marshmello’s “Alone.” Since then, she’s played at some huge festivals including EDC Vegas and Tomorrowland Mexico and released the EP Nice to Meet You, along with a number of singles like “This Ends Now,” a collaboration with Austin-based DJ Crizzly, and the fast-paced, chaotic, bass-boosted “Like What the F.”

Audiffred paid a visit to Los Angeles for a show alongside Riot Ten, Cookie Monsta, G-Rex, and Sharps on Saturday, February 29 at the Hollywood Palladium, and her set demonstrated not only the colorful range of music she’s been putting out as a DJ and producer but also how well she’s mastered the art of getting a crowd riled up.

Even though it was just a one-night event, people showed up decked out in festival gear, from face glitter to colorful bras, and the line stretched through the block outside the Palladium. The night started off with Seattle-based DJ Sharps, whose bass-heavy set got people jumping and bouncing as the background screen displayed knives (ostensibly a play on his name). People head-banged to the music and even formed a mosh pit in the center of the dance floor and threw themselves at one another. Just when it seemed like the energy couldn’t get higher, Sharps announced, “Make some noise for Jessica Audiffred.”

Female DJs are still unfortunately and unreasonably among the minority in festival and show lineups, but Audiffred proved that audience members, male and female alike, will support women on stage just as much as men, if not more. People shouted “Jessica!” and “We love you!” from the crowd and sang along to any and all vocals she sampled.

Part of Audiffred’s success is stems from her ability to put on a great live show. She throws her head back and forth and dances with her fists in the air while performing in front of delightfully quirky imagery, from Beavis and Butt-Head cartoons to dogs in sunglasses and images of her own face breathing fire. She also made the show interactive, prompting people to put on their cell phone lights and wave them in the air at one point, then turning around and having someone on stage take a photo of her with all her fans in the background later on.


Throughout Audiffred’s set, which embodied the interesting mix of upbeat and dark vibes that characterizes her music, she sampled “Sicko Mode,” elicited head-bangs with the Latin-inspired beats in “K.O.,” and produced some epic drops in “This Ends Now.”

G-Rex followed her with music reminiscent of what you hear in a haunted house and corresponding imagery of skulls, creepy baby faces, and ghost-like hands that appeared to be crawling out of the screen. His set featured voices warped both low and high, scratchy beats, and high-pitched clicks and clacks. While his music was similarly intense, G-Rex lacked the stage presence that Audiffred exudes, but he did create a mood that was spooky and thrilling.

I left before Cookie Monsta and Riot Ten came on; I couldn’t rally up the energy to stay out long past 11. But in my mind, I’d already seen the main act, which was Audiffred. Hopefully, more venues will soon be smart enough to make her the headliner.


LIVE REVIEW: Best Coast @ The Novo


Best Coast, the LA-based alt-rock duo consisting of singer, songwriter, and guitarist Bethany Cosentino and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, released their latest album Always Tomorrow in February and began the album’s tour in their home state, making their second stop at LA’s Novo on Friday, February 28.

After Philadelphia-based indie punk band Mannequin Pussy opened with raw, head-banging tracks like “Drunk II,” Best Coast began with an old favorite, the exultant eponymous track off 2015’s California Nights: “California nights / Make me feel so happy I could die / But I try to stay alive / I never wanna get so high / That I can’t come back down to real life / And look you in the eyes and say ‘Baby, you are mine.'” Next came the chill, uplifting breakup song “For the First Time,” with catchy bass tunes and infectious harmonies.

Cosentino, who took the stage in a blue pantsuit, has a clean, clear, emotive voice reminiscent of Neko Case and Jenny Lewis. She sings in an animated, almost theatrical style, swaying from side to side, gesturing with her hands, and enunciating each word as if she’s telling a story. Bruno was equally dynamic, jumping up and down as he strummed his guitar. They were joined by Joe Bautista on guitar and keyboard, Brett Mielke on bass and background vocals, and Dylan Wood on drums.

Cosentino exudes a rare combination of rockstar energy and relatability. She spoke to the audience throughout the show in a refreshingly honest manner. “I was really in my own head, like, no one’s gonna fucking come to this show,” she admitted before performing a crowd favorite, “The Only Place,” speaking some of the lyrics, with the audience singing along to the refrain: “Why would you live anywhere else?”

The band’s frontwoman took on an angrier tone for “Seeing Red,” singing about a different side of a breakup than “For the First Time” presents: “It’s so hard / When everything you’ve ever known is gone / And it’s okay to feel weak / It’s okay to be shaky / But god, I wish that I could just move on.”

Before performing an emotional “No One Like You,” a song about persevering through relationship issues, Cosentino announced that she was playing a love song and advised the singles in the crowd to love themselves. “You’re the nicest,” she said as the audience cheered.

Best Coast gave the crowd a taste of their latest album with “Rollercoaster,” which has the same beachy rock-and-roll vibes as their old music, before treating them to the catchy “Feeling OK” and revisiting the new album with the energetic “Make It Last” — with Cosentino screaming the lyrics “We can’t let this go on any further” and “I just want you to be happy with another” — and the angsty, guitar-heavy “Graceless Kids.”

Then, Cosentino gave the audience a heartfelt thank you, referencing the turn from her anxiety-ridden party girl persona to finding sobriety in 2017, a major theme on Always Tomorrow: “You guys fucking loved me when I hated myself and didn’t know how to love myself, and you just fucking lifted my ass up. I don’t know you, but you are the sweetest.”

Of course, the crowd beckoned the band back up for an encore, during which they played two classics: Cosentino started off the fun, cheerful “When I’m With You” slowly with just her voice and guitar, then the band joined in and picked up the pace. “What do we have? Fun!” she playfully prompted the audience to yell. They closed the show with the wistful “Boyfriend.”

After people trickled out of the venue, they blasted Best Coast’s music on the street outside the Novo. I left feeling as if I’d truly gotten a glimpse into the soul of Cosentino and her bandmates. The show captured the spirit of the first song they played: through their music and performance, they’d created another breathtaking California night.

LIVE REVIEW: Lower Dens with Ami Dang @ The Roxy

Indie pop band Lower Dens has built up a loyal following since its 2010 inception, with hits like 2015’s ’80s-inspired “To Die in L.A.” and 2016’s introspective “Real Thing” not just providing catchy music but also making people think. They released their fourth album The Competition in September and have since been touring with ambient sitar player and vocalist Ami Dang. On Thursday, February 27, they stopped by LA’s famous Roxy Theatre to perform for an intimate but enthusiastic crowd.

Dang prefaced each of her songs with an explanation of what inspired them, revealing deep meanings behind each. One song’s lyrics came from an old Muslim poem about “how we can not only respect and tolerate one another but find places where spiritually we align,” and another was based on One Thousand and One Nights, setting the stories to music with no lyrics to reclaim whitewashed translations. Behind Dang’s soaring, dream-like voice was a thunderous electronic sound that made my body vibrate. Her huge sitar and passionate, chant-like singing against a background of synths and electronic beats provided a sound that was both modern and spiritual.

Photo credit: Joey DeRusha

The setting was as quirky as the performers themselves, with blue lights cast by a disco ball and confetti sprinkled across the ground. The light on the stage turned from red to purple to orange as Lower Dens performed.

The main act played some of the songs off its latest album, including “Lucky People,” a mellow but dark ballad reminiscent of The Cure, and “I Drive,” an honest and relatable ode to troubled family relationships. The show also featured music from 2015’s Escape from Evil, like the slow, pleading “Ondine,” as well as the haunting “Brains” all the way back from 2012’s Propagation.

Lower Dens have built up their following through their innovative music and artful, poetic lyrics as well as lead singer Jana Hunter‘s outspokenness on issues like gender identity and racism in the music industry. But not all of these appeals translate well into live performances. Hunter’s style of singing often involves swallowing his words, leaving the audience unable to glean their intricate meanings.

The heavy backtracks made it even more difficult to make out the melodies and lyrics, and the band’s performance style was understated, with little movement or displays of emotion, which made the show feel low-energy. While this shoe-gaze style has been done to make a statement in the past, the way the Lower Dens presented themselves felt more like an attempt to play it safe, an unwillingness to commit to any statement — a surprising contrast to Hunter’s boldness in his writing and interviews.

Nevertheless, the band played for an excited crowd of people, who cheered when hits like “To Die in LA” came on and swayed along to the music throughout the performance. As someone who was familiar with Lower Dens but had not followed them closely, I wished they hadn’t buried so much of their music’s profound meaning and emotion. But the show did inspire me to listen to and research their music online when I got home, and perhaps that was the best way to experience its full depth.

Photo credit: Joey DeRusha

LIVE REVIEW: HARD Day of the Dead Festival Mixes EDM and Spirituality

On Saturday, October 26, I attended a San Pedro ceremony. With a group of fellow journeyers, I drank the extract of a psychedelic cactus sourced from Peru, danced around a circle to live music, shook rattles, played drums, lay down to focus on my own insights and visions, and had drug-induced heart-to-hearts with other participants.

The following Saturday, November 2, I went to the HARD Day of the Dead festival in downtown LA. I microdosed some iboga and met others on their own substances of choice, whether that was weed, alcohol, MDMA, or something else. We danced together, sang along to the music, went on our own inner journeys as we swayed to the electronic beats, and talked to one another by the food stands. It struck me how similar this experience was to the one I’d had a week prior.

EDM festivals are modern-day shamanic ceremonies: People use music, dance, and often substances to connect with one another and achieve a higher state of consciousness. With the occasion of the Day of the Dead, which is already full of spiritual rituals meant to connect with ancestors, this association was extra prominent at the HARD Day of the Dead festival.

The afternoon and evening included many diverse manifestations of the EDM genre. Early in the day, Vietnamese-American DJ Softest Hard bound the festival-goers together by inspiring them to sing along to remixes of well-known tunes from Travis Scott’s “SICKO MODE” featuring Drake to t.A.T.u.’s “All the Things She Said.” Then, new-beat producer 1788-L delivered a delightful combination of trappy rhythms and unexpected interludes of classical piano and other instrumentals.

Later on, electropop artist Elohim took the stage for the trippiest set of the evening, with technicolor images of pills and the definition of “hallucination” on the screen behind her. It was during her act that the connection between EDM and psychonautic exploration was made clearest. In “Braindead,” she sings about drugs and spirituality: “All I know is I know what I don’t know / And what I don’t know could fill up a whole bible.” She also played an unexpected and musically fascinating cover of Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta,” her breathy voice gently drawing out lyrics punchingly shouted in the original.

Another highlight of the evening was Blacklizt, Zhu’s deep house/techno alter ego, who blasted haunting sounds alongside a creepy collection of mannequins in front of a screen showcasing eerie images like scissors. His set reached its climax when he played “Faded (Baby I’m Wasted),” prompting the audience to belt out the lyrics, “Baby I’m wasted / All I wanna do is drive home to you / Baby I’m faded / All I wanna do is take you downtown.”

The headliner was Dog Blood, a collaboration between Skrillex and Boys Noize, ending the night on a high note with fast-paced electro-house beats and R&B influenced songs like “Midnight Hour.”

Despite the performances’ mystical undertones, it would be a stretch to say the festival honored the holiday’s spiritual traditions. Its representation of the Day of the Dead was fairly surface-level and came off a bit culturally appropriative given the poor representation of Latinx artists in the lineup. The event’s nods to the holiday and Mexican culture were essentially the symbols white America is most familiar with: a giant skull, a mariachi band, a stage flanked by skeletons.

What it did represent well was the spiritual culture of EDM: one full of trance-inducing songs, drug-facilitated connections, and crowds that move like one giant being. Whether or not it accurately celebrated the Day of the Dead, it was — like all music festivals — a celebration of life.

REVIEW: Lizzo Speaks Her Truth at Final Stop of Cuz I Love You Too Tour

Lizzo press photo by Luke Gilford, courtesy of Atlantic Records.

Midway through the final show of the Cuz I Love You Too tour, Lizzo let the crowd know where she stands on the drama surrounding the iconic line on “Truth Hurts.” From her purple pulpit with golden robes a-flowing, our patron saint of self-love was not mincing words. “Recently I’ve been getting a lot of letters…from past fuckboys.” She then offered any future fools a warning: “Thou shalt not fuck with Lizzo because thou shalt come back two years later, bitch.”

“Truth Hurts” is a resounding hit and has been a huge part of the massive momentum behind Lizzo’s rising star – enough to sell out the first leg of the tour supporting her most recent LP, Cuz I Love You, and extend it two more months, wrapping up at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on Sunday. But with this success comes some dispute. Everyone wants their cut of “Truth Hurts,” whether they deserve it or not.

Like a game of telephone, the tale of the traveling lyrics – “I just did a DNA test / Turns out I’m 100% that bitch” – crosses international waters, through singers and producers, reminding us once again that women, especially black women, have to fight hardest for what is rightfully theirs. Lizzo recently gave a writing credit and rightful compensation to British songwriter Mina Lioness, who initially tweeted the line in 2017 (in response to an embarrassing tweet from Demi Lovato claiming her 1% African DNA) and Lioness says that she and Lizzo are on good terms.

Litigation continues between Lizzo and three white male producers – whose names I really don’t feel like giving any more attention to, but OF COURSE two of them are named Justin – and they are demanding 20% of the song’s profits. They claim that the demo Lizzo recorded in their studio, “Healthy” which includes the DNA line, is something they created together, and they deserve writing/producing credit. There’s no doubt that intellectual property and artists’ creative rights matter and are legally, rightfully protected. Today’s collabs though, continue to blur these boundaries. When sharing, sampling, curating is everywhere, where is the line? Well, the line here is money, and the Justins want some.

Lyrics are important and fundamental to the songs we love and remember. 100%. But you know what else is important? Delivery. Ask anyone who’s ever been to karaoke night or watched The Voice. The Justins of the world can keep trying to steal her shine, but right now on this planet, there is no human being delivering more starpower and talent than one Melissa Vivianne Jefferson. All 8,500 of us at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium felt that love on the tour’s final stop. Even for San Francisco, the crowd was noticeably diverse. Humans of all kinds came to worship at the church of Lizzo and we were not disappointed.

Backed by DJ Sophia Eris and her dancers, the Big Grrls, the vibe was loose and playful. The last show of a long, blockbuster tour, their bodies gave us every bit of talent left in the tank. The bedazzled Patron bottle made an extended appearance as did, of course, the glorious diva Sasha Flute. Warming us up with “Heaven Help Me” and “Worship Me,” breaking our hearts with “Cuz I Love You,” and setting some hella clear boundaries with “Exactly How I Feel” and “Jerome,” Lizzo came prepared with her biggest hits. On “Like A Girl,” she added new lyrics, extending the self-acceptance even further: “If you feel like a girl then you real like a girl – if you feel like a boy then you real like a boy – if you feel like neither then, bitch, do you! Do you, period. PERIOD. Do your thing and run the whole damn world.”

She wrapped up the party with her record-breaking bangers “Truth Hurts,” “Good As Hell,” and “Juice,” coming down into the crowd to get closer to us. There were moments where she would pause and catch her breath, visibly soaking it all in, alone on stage in between songs, her brown eyes earnest and open, big smile beaming. It’s been one hell of a ride for this band geek and classically trained flautist from Minneapolis. Six years since self-releasing her first album, Lizzo has arrived and she is just getting started.

Between last-show hugs and tequila shots, she left us with clear goals for 2020: “You know what I realize, at the time when I was dealing with these people, with these fuckboys? I thought I was the problem, I thought it was me. But I’m here right now to let you know – I don’t know who needs to hear this message – it’s not you, bitch. It’s not you. It’s them. You are 100 PERCENT that bitch. We are no longer dealing with fuckboys in 2020, ok? No fuckboys, no fuckgirls, no fuckthems, no fucktheys. We are free from the fuckery, Amen?” To which all 8,500 of her new best friends agreed: AMEN.

LIVE REVIEW: Incubus @ Radio City Music Hall

Ten years ago, I saw Incubus at Radio City Music Hall. It was also 10 years after my favorite album of theirs, Make Yourself, came out. Though I first fell in love with the band back in high school, we’d grown apart since, and we rekindled our romance that summer, one-sided as it was. I’d been going through an existential crisis of sorts and found meaning in tracks like “Make Yourself” and “The Warmth,” where the band’s spirituality and wisdom shine through infectious intros and intensely dark lines. On this album, frontman Brandon Boyd sings about resisting capitalism and conformity, becoming the pilot of your own life, and staying optimistic amid a world that’s “fucked up and cold.” Taken together, the songs made me feel connected to something greater, something transcendental yet wholly my own — and, of course, to the band itself.

Last week, 10 years after that pivotal concert and 20 years about Make Yourself’s release, I returned to Radio City for a show celebrating this two-decade anniversary. It opened with a montage of footage of the band’s members discussing the album’s significance, explaining that it marked the point when Incubus found their unique style and broadcast it to the world — where they made themselves, one might even say. Then, the band took the stage with the same contagious electricity they emitted 10 years prior, the kind that makes you want to jump up and down and bob your head until your hair bounces along with Boyd’s.

The set opened with “Privilege,” the metal-influenced album opener with forceful guitar riffs and cutting lyrics like “Isn’t it strange that a gift could be an enemy? / Isn’t it weird that a privilege could feel like a chore?”  They stayed true to the album tracklist, playing Make Yourself beginning to end, with Boyd ad-libbing a few lines from The Cars’ “Drive” to the Incubus hit of the same name, with turntablist and keyboardist Chris Kilmore mixing the music on a DJ board. The band also opted to take a new route with “Pardon Me,” starting the angry anthem slow and acoustic.

One of Incubus’s unique talents is selecting the perfect imagery to accompany its songs — unsurprising given that Brandon Boyd is also an artist — and this show was no exception. As the band performed, biological imagery on multiple scales, from cells to oceans to planets, floated across the screen behind them, the shapes morphing and colors bleeding into one another. “The Warmth” was accompanied by a design resembling the inside of a brain, illustrating the themes of appreciating human potential and taking control of your reality through your dominion over your own mind.

The enthusiastic crowd spanned all genders and age groups, singing along to famous lines like “And if I fuck me / I’ll fuck me in my own way” and “whatever tomorrow brings, I’ll be there with open arms and open eyes.” After completing Make Yourself with “Out From Under,” the band moved on to newer songs like “Into the Summer” and “Are You In.” An Incubus concert would not be complete without Brandon Boyd’s bare torso, and he delivered on that as well, eliciting squeals from the audience as always.

When the set closed, it was still gnawing at me that they hadn’t yet played “Wish You Were Here.” As if reading my mind, they came back for an encore, closing the evening with the dreamy, ambient single from 2001’s Morning View, bidding farewell to the crowd with the line, “Wish you were here.” I was glad I was. May they solve existential crises with screamed swear words and head-bangs for years to come.

The Make Yourself & Beyond tour continues tonight in Philly. See all remaining tour dates below.

10/7 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Met Philadelphia
10/8 – Boston, MA @ Boch Center Wang Theatre
10/9 – Portland, ME @ State Theatre
10/11 – Mashantucket, CT @ The Grand Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino
10/12 – Washington, DC @ Warner Theatre
10/13 – Washington, DC @ Warner Theatre
10/15 – Toronto, ON @ Sony Centre for the Performing Arts
10/16 – Detroit, MI @ Fox Theatre
10/18 – Chicago, IL @ Byline Bank Aragon Ballroom
10/19 – Omaha, NE @ Orpheum Theatre

LIVE REVIEW: Chris Cohen @ Non Plus Ultra

All photos by Suzannah Weiss

They say getting there is half the fun, and that was definitely true for indie art-rock artist Chris Cohen’s latest show at Non Plus Ultra in LA. The underground venue’s address is ever-changing, as I discovered when I arrived at the one listed online and found only houses. Thankfully, I made some new friends who were looking for the same show, and we finally found the right place together.

It was worth it: Not only did I meet new people; I found myself at a visually fascinating warehouse-like building that looked more like an art gallery than a concert venue. Graffiti covered the walls, colorful jellyfish hung from the ceiling of the bar, and even the bathrooms were artfully painted.


The show was scheduled for 8 p.m., but it started around 9:30 with an experimental set by multi-instrumentalist Sam Gendel, who mixed music on his computer while speaking, singing, and beat-boxing into a microphone. As his voice warped against jazzy piano tunes in the background, animations of snakes, ballerinas, and other cartoonish figures appeared on a screen behind him. His unique style fit the artsy undercurrent of the whole event.

Next, indie folk artist Ruth Garbus performed several songs on vocals and guitar with the vocal accompaniment of Julia Tadlock, their voices harmonizing on poetic lyrics like “we’re waiting on the sun.” Garbus played part of the set alone, her voice operatic and airy and a bit reminiscent of Kimya Dawson, painting scenes of squirrels and other natural imagery. At one point, Gendel accompanied her on the saxophone.

At last, Cohen took the stage around 11:30 p.m., beginning with the slow-paced, dreamy “Edit Out.” The audience swayed as he crooned, “I rub my eyes and look around / You can hardly tell at all / Estimated what they’d edit out / Maybe nothing there at all.” Chimes filled the room with psychedelic echoes as he sang “No Time to Say Goodbye,” and the screen behind him matched, with gorgeous technicolor outdoor scenes that made it feel like I was inside a video game. Cohen doesn’t give the most animated performances, yet his expressionless face and gentle rocking compliment his mellow tunes. He picked up the pace to close the night with “Heavy Weather Sailing,” building on the event’s fantastical atmosphere as he sang, “Put the brakes on if you can / Weigh the world on a scale / Tell any story to suit you / Like Jonah swallowed the whale.”

Personally, I’d been hoping for him to play some of his more energetic and upbeat songs, like “Torrey Pine” and “Drink From a Silver Cup,” but I’ll take whatever he’ll give me, and his selections fit the dream-like setting of Non Plus Ultra’s tucked-away wonderland.

Chris Cohen’s self-titled LP is out now.

SHOW REVIEW: The Mountain Goats @ Anaheim House of Blues

all photos by Suzannah Weiss


Indie folk band The Mountain Goats has been around for nearly 30 years, but its members are still going strong. They released their 17th studio album In League With Dragons in April, and they’re currently touring around the country, stopping at the House of Blues in Anaheim, California (best known for its Disneyland resort) on Monday, September 16.

The evening began with a set by singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless, who sang a collection of heartfelt songs with country and folk influences. Her soulful voice told stories of the ups and downs of relationships with vivid lyrics like “I was thinking of things I’d do if I had the time/Until my fingers smell like pussy and Lucky Strikes” as she accompanied her own vocals on the guitar and keyboard. Her voice was a bit whiny for my taste at times, but she ended on a good note with a fast-paced and catchy tune that set the stage for the rest of the show.

After a short interlude, the Mountain Goats opened with a slow, staccato “An Antidote for Strychnine,” from their most recent album. Lead singer John Darnielle’s distinctive voice sounds just like it does on recordings. There’s something almost foreboding in the way it quivers as it lingers on certain lyrics, and the songs sound almost like spoken stories as he clearly enunciates each word. Watching the band perform feels almost like hearing a friend tell anecdotes from their life — except it’s a friend who speaks in poetic verses with infectious melodies.

The band’s quirks shined during the performance; Darnielle cracked jokes about dragons and politics, an unexplained snake and apple rested on the keyboard for the duration of the set, and pianist Matt Douglas treated the audience to several saxophone solos. Darnielle played part of the set alone, and his band joined him for the beginning and the end.

“Sax Rohmer #1” off 2008’s Heretic Pride was a crowd favorite. People shouted as Darnielle belted “And I am coming home to you / With my own blood in my mouth / And I am coming home to you / If it’s the last thing that I do.” Another highlight was “Wear Black” from 2017’s Goths, which featured canorous harmonies and dreamy keyboard tunes.

With their spirited dancing and enthusiastic head-bobbing, it was clear that the band hasn’t gotten bored of live performances, and it was just as evident from the crowd’s cheers that their fans haven’t gotten bored of them either.

PLAYING THE BAY: MUSH Delivers “A Night of Black Magic” with Maya Songbird and Ah Mer Ah Su

Last week I traversed to Jack London Square for the second show of’s summer concert series, MUSH. With the goal of highlighting the diverse sounds of the Bay Area music scene, MUSH promises a small outdoor concert experience a stone’s throw from the Jack London square eateries and nearby bars.

While still has a few wrinkles to smooth out in terms of running multiple outdoor sets, whatever was lost in technical translation was made up for by the intimacy of the show. For the first half hour, DJs spun their favorites as a small crowd gathered, perching on a set of yellow bleachers or curling up on jackets and blankets on the grass.

Castro District native Maya Songbird started the concert off with with a determined chant for us to get up and dance, setting the mood for her high-energy catalog. Her beats are straightforward and insistent, with clear funk influences. My favorite part of her set was definitely the last few songs, when everyone in the audience got on their feet to bop along. The most notable dancer in the crowd was headliner Ah Mer Ah Su, who had been watching from the grass for the entire performance, cheering on her fellow songstress and gleefully chanting “slut, slut, slut!” at Maya’s request during “Regal Slut.”

This moment stood out for me as something one is rarely privy to during a larger show. Performers may thank their tour mates or bring them on stage for a song or two, but watching Ah Mer Ah Su cheer Maya Songbird on, at one point twerking freely on her picnic blanket while the rest of us huddled together, not yet warmed up enough to dance, seemed to exemplify the goals of this concert series — to elevate Bay musicians and strengthen the community of performers and listeners alike — more than anything else I saw that evening. That, and the very cute moment during Ah Mer Ah Su’s set when she declared, as she and Maya are both witches, that it was “a night of black magic.”

After Maya Songbird finished, my friend and I meandered to the docks while another DJ took over. We stayed there, enjoying the last gasp of golden hour, until we were drawn back by an absolutely rousing remix of “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton. A few minutes later, Ah Mer Ah Su started her performance.

Based in Oakland, Ah Mer Ah Su sings over electronic beats not unlike Maya Songbird’s, but with a more soulful, introspective lyrical approach that touches on her experience as a black trans woman. Ah Me Ah Su is more guarded as a performer than the exuberant Maya, but her stripped-down vocal delivery provided more than enough venerability. Her voice is powerful, and while her instrumentals don’t require a full band, I found myself dreaming of horns, violins — whatever would take the drama to a next level. “Perfect” and “Powerful” were audience favorites, the former an ode to letting go of the impossible expectations we place on ourselves, the latter an examination of the concept that the only thing we reliably have control over is our reactions.

The idea of control — losing it, desiring it, letting it go — seems to be a prevalent theme in Ah Mer Ah Su’s music. She established this early on with “Klonopin,” a slow building lament of drug dependency that builds into a layered chorus of schoolyard-like rhymes that served as one of her first singles. Sang at the concert with a new arrangement that will back an upcoming dance performance, I can only imagine how powerful of an experience it is to be able to revisit old works and adjust them to more accurately represent who you are now — or who you wish you could have been when you first created them.’s summer concert series continues every other Thursday through June 20th.

SHOW REVIEW: Daddy Issues, Foxing, and Now, Now Deliver a Divine Performance At August Hall

I’m not a very religious person, but I do think that whatever I’ve lost from not going to temple I’ve gained back at all the live shows that hit me hard.

That’s certainly what happened to me last Wednesday night at at the small-but-mighty August Hall, where I caught Foxing and Now, Now on their joint tour.

Daddy Issues, a grunge rock band from Nashville, Tennessee, opened the show. To my great chagrin, I actually missed about half of their set, but in my defense, I thought the day that a rock show started on time would be the day the rapture starts for real.

I’ve been listening to Daddy Issues for a while now. Their menacing cover of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” was the perfect soundtrack to last August, when there everything felt as languid as their fuzzed-out take on Henley’s immediately recognizable riff. Their debut album, Deep Dream, paints a picture from the get go, one where failures seem inevitable, your small-scale destiny of mundanity is written in stone, and lying back in the sun with a hand over your eyes with this album growling in the background is the only possible solution to your ennui.

In person, Daddy Issues were delightful. They recently acquired a new bassist with infectious on-the-balls-of-her-feet energy, who had, apparently, skipped her graduation for this tour (who wouldn’t have?). As dark as Deep Dream may be, on stage the band exudes nothing but gratefulness, not only to be seen and heard for the slim half hour allowed to opening bands everywhere, but clear gratitude for their tourmates, a sentiment returned many times over by the headliners.

Something difficult, I think, about creating art of any sort is that you need to get used to the feeling of unloading your secrets over and over again. The veil of deniability is never as thick as you want it to be, and revisiting old work, whether it be a song performance or a drawing, can feel like picking at a scab. It was a shock to me when the band I thought would stumble onstage under the weight of their own malaise instead were laughing, giggling, joking, and, frankly, beaming— yet another needed reminder that knowing a band’s music is eons away from knowing anything, truthfully and fully, about its members.

Daddy Issues ended their set with “Dog Years,” a teeth-gnashing I-bite-my-thumb-at-you kiss off with the eminently quotable (if hissing into someone’s ear as they sleep counts as quoting) line we’re not gonna be friends/in dog years you’re dead. And while I was happy to have caught a favorite, the dreaded break between sets loomed heavy. I learned from some genial fans that Foxing was up next; having heard maybe a few bars of their most popular song and unfamiliar with the rest of their catalog, my hope had been that Now, Now would play first so I could get home in time to get some sleep before work tomorrow. I sighed and headed to the outskirts of the audience, sliding down to sit on the floor and prepare myself for an hour of waiting. Stage prep proceeded normally until the stage went dark during an old ’50s song — it kills me that I can’t remember what it was — and as the final note fell away, Foxing emerged in a blast of light. And so set the tone for what turned out, to me, to be a reverence-inspiring show.

Foxing’s first song plunged through August Hall like a cold wave. I stayed on my perch at first, but it didn’t take long for me to wander into the crowd, phone in hand as I tried to capture the sound and fury of Foxing’s frontman, Conor Murphy. Murphy is the rare sort of stage presence whose charisma almost overtakes his entire body, a red-hot coil reaching towards whatever divine presence grants him the energy to his thrash and claw his way through the set. His bandmates Jon Hellwig (drums), Eric Hudson (drums), Ricky Sampson (guitar), and their two additional touring members were all equally impressive – talented, confident, and here to deliver a hell of a show.

I was truly hypnotized by guitarist Hudson, who seemed to let the music pass through him like the fuckin’ holy spirit of rock n’ roll, the audience watching it all happen, biting their nails to see who would maintain control of the host body.

I’m just going to say it: I’ve never seen such sexy guitar playing.

August Hall itself was a character in all of this, its shining stained-glass coins of famous Bay faces observing us benevolently as we bounced on our heels, as we danced, as we chorused why don’t you love me back from “Rory,” in the show’s softest, slowest moment of audience-wide introspection. At one point, during the title track from their most recent album Nearer My God, blue stage lights arched above the audience while Murphy threw his hands up in supplication, asking God, Buddha, me, the sound people, the couple making out behind me…does anybody want me at all?

And, just like actually asking that question of God, Buddha, and the rest, there was no answer. So what does Foxing do? They enter a full-scale drop into roiling rock pandemonium.

This seems to be a favorite move of Foxing — lull the people into a moment of quiet, then let loose the mighty force of all six musicians on stage who fling the music out like we’re all trapped in some reverb-loving pinball machine. The drums were so loud, in fact, that a few times I found myself pressing my hands to my chest like there was a real possibility my ribcage would come unknit completely.

But no — I remained whole, perhaps even a little fuller than when I came in; it’s only been a few times I’ve loved a band based solely upon a live performance, and this was one such rarity.

Next up was Now, Now, presenting their most recent album, Saved – also known as 2018’s primo makeout album. The otherworldly tome of songs sound good no matter what you listen to them on, from vinyl to car stereo to shitty broken headphones.

I managed to finagle my way front and center during the break— a first! — inadvertently setting myself up for truly strange feeling of being feet away from those you are used to interacting with in ones and zeros. While I don’t know what its like to be a frontwoman, having KC Dalager three inches away from me while she curled her body around the mike only inspired the idea that my own emotions, on display in the presumed safety of the audience, were being watched, unnoticed, from behind KC’s curtain of orange-dyed hair.

Despite KC being on her way to losing her voice, Now, Now’s set was enjoyable, especially sexy album opener “SGL.” The set didn’t hit me like the last time I saw them live, when KC entered the audience for the closing song and proceeded to lie on the sticky beer floor to quaver out the album’s final words (loving me, baby, is easy/where do I begin), but I wouldn’t expect it to.

KC likes to hide, even on stage. Even when she was a few inches away, I was never sure if we had made eye contact, and she reserved her moments of true vulnerability for a few chosen members of the crowd. According to the overwhelmed fan next to me, whose hands KC had grasped a few times, KC’s gaze was so intense that she wasn’t sure where to look.

I wouldn’t have known either, but I do know this: it’s no mistake that Now, Now’s last album was called Saved.

Though none of the acts at that night at August Hall are explicitly religious bands, all three found ways to channel the divine into their live show, with performances of such spirit it couldn’t help but rub off on those that worshiped at their feet.

REVIEW: Ultra Miami Was An Exercise in Letting Expectations Go

Music festivals are disappointing. There, I said it.

Every few weeks or so, somewhere in the world, people spend a ton of money on plane tickets, festival tickets, and hotel rooms, then spend a ton of mental energy figuring out what to pack and what to wear for some festival that will probably disappoint them.

My recent trip to Ultra Miami epitomized this experience.

As usual, I lost a ton of sleep with the planning. I spent half an hour on the phone with my life coach discussing whether to go (I’m admittedly neurotic). I looked up hotels after I booked one just to reassure myself I got the best deal possible (I didn’t). I checked ticket resale sites every day as I anxiously waited for my press credentials to not be approved.

Then, the ticket I paid double the price on didn’t arrive when it was supposed to. I spent three mornings in a row on the phone with the company, eventually pulling the journalist card and threatening to ruin their reputation if they didn’t come through (hey, it worked). Exhausted the night before the festival, I slept through the Above & Beyond concert I’d gotten tickets for. Then, the friend who’d convinced me to come to Miami got out-of-his-mind high and disappeared, and the only other person there I knew didn’t have time to see me. The interviews I’d planned to do fell through. Almost nothing I went there for actually happened.

The festival itself didn’t live up to the hype. The grounds were small and the stages were basic — nowhere close to the gorgeous artwork of EDC or Tomorrowland. Even Armin van Buuren, who consistently kills it, fell flat. My friends and I agreed he lacked a certain energy.

Still, it had its magical moments. The highlight was Marshmello, who brought up Will Smith for “Welcome to Miami.” After him, The Chainsmokers also put on an entertaining show, and Jauz gave a high-energy performance as always with a set that incorporated the intro to Martin Garrix’s animals and Internet Friends’ “You Blocked Me on Facebook.”

When most people come to music festivals, they’re set on which artists they need to see, which friends they need to meet up with, and what parties they need to go to. The irony is, you can’t control your way toward losing control. Sticking to an agenda completely defeats the purpose of a festival: to let go of stress and have fun. Ultimately, many people leave festivals just feeling more stressed out.

I refused to leave Ultra this way. So, at around 7 p.m. on the last night, when my body was telling me it could not continue even though I was dying to see Above & Beyond at 9:30, I called a Lyft, headed back to my hotel, ate some tacos, and played Above and Beyond from my computer. And it was fucking fantastic. Above & Beyond may be what I came there for, but what you come somewhere for is not always what you stay for. Our desires change, and isn’t the whole point of a music festival to live in the moment?

“When I say ‘life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you,’ I don’t really know if that’s true,” Jim Carey once said in a commencement speech at Maharishi University. “I’m making a conscious choice to see challenges as something beneficial so that I can deal with them in the most productive way.”

That’s exactly how we have to act when things don’t go our way: entertain the possibility that they did go our way; we just didn’t realize it. I didn’t get what I came to Miami for, but I did gain some valuable self-discovery. Perhaps that’s the best we can hope for, no matter where our journey leads.

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Alien Boy, Perfume V & Lose the Tude at Organon Arcade

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Alien Boy. All photos by Kaiya Gordon.

On my way to the show, I tried to focus on my weekly readings. During my undergraduate experience, I got the bulk of my assignments done on public transportation. I liked the anonymity of the bus; the soft, indiscernible sounds of strangers talking; the sway of the wheels. But between my undergraduate years and the Perfume V, Alien Boy, and Lose the Tude show I attended last Tuesday, the world has become more distracting. Texts from home buzzed in my pocket, and my glasses kept slipping from my nose. But mostly – I was nervous. I was traveling to my first house show in Columbus (hosted by Organon Arcade), and I was alone. Is DIY the same everywhere? I didn’t know.

I slipped into Columbus’ music scene with little splash. Unlike the shows I had been attending in The Bay Area, my previous (and future!) home, Columbus’ events left little chance of running into an old crush, an ex friend, or my therapist. And it was easy to find out where and when things were happening – new shows, showcases, and art events have been popping up on my Facebook feed ever since I touched down here.

It’s easy to find music events in Columbus because, frankly, there are a lot of music events happening here. And though Columbus’ DIY spaces – like their counterparts across the country – have been hit by increased attention and zoning restrictions in the last year, the scene continues to thrive.

On Tuesday, I made my way into a basement I had never been in before, to see a show hosted by people I had never met. But by the end of the night, I decided that it didn’t really matter who I did or didn’t know; house shows are fun no matter your connection to the home. It’s fun to see the bands try new things, fun to see the in-house sound set-up, fun to watch singers and guitarists run wherever they felt like as they played. And there were many things, beyond the music, that felt familiar – the house cat I petted when I was feeling nervous, the conversations about astrology, the La Croix art I spotted in the kitchen, the house plants, and the carabiners everyone wore.

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Organon Arcade’s feline resident.

Though the line-up was dominated by variations of pop and punk, the performers varied in other, meaningful ways. Alien Boy and Perfume V, both touring from Portland, Oregon, have been playing together and recording music for about three years. In contrast, Lose the Tude, described on the event page as “a bunch of OLD men from here who still know how to rip as long as the show is over by 10,” have been making music since 2007. All three bands showed up with gusto. Alien Boy and Perfume V put on crashing musical performances, the vocals of Sonia Weber and Max Pogue – who both play in each others’ bands – complicated by frantic drum sequences and gritty guitar sounds.

Long-time locals Lose the Tude, whose latest album came out in March of this year, put on an enthusiastic hardcore performance. Singer Ryan J. Eilbeck nearly clocked me in the face several times during the set, which, in my opinion, is a pretty good indicator of a fun show. The band’s fervent dance moves – Eilbeck stopped the show, at one point, to clear the area in front of him by circling his hips in exaggerated motions – added to their relentless musical drive. They looked like a band that was having fun playing music together. And the joy of creation – of doing the work – is something to look for, whether in an unknown basement or a sold-out arena.

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Lose the Tude.

LIVE REVIEW: San Fermin @ Brooklyn Steel

On May 13, San Fermin returned to Brooklyn, where they got their start, to put on a show worth remembering. Though the venue, Brooklyn Steel, just opened, several band members mentioned during the show just how important it was to be playing a homecoming gig, and they performed their hearts out to show their love and appreciation for the journey they’ve been on so far.

San Fermin is the brainchild of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who produces and writes songs for the band. San Fermin’s third album Belong was just released in April of this year, and it reveals a more solid, confident side than prior albums. Part of that comes from the lyrics’ vulnerability; for Belong, Ellis confronted his anxiety and fear of disconnection, making it more raw but all the stronger for that. Not only has Ellis become a more self-assured and immersed bandleader, but the synergy between all band members are at a peak. This came across immediately and enthusiastically in their performance.

The show started off with “Oceanica” and “Bride,” two tracks off their latest album that both hold the ethereal yet foreboding aura that’s to be expected from San Fermin. Frontwoman and multi-instrumentalist Charlene Kaye was an elegant Siren in a silver jumpsuit who swung her head and danced with fluid movements perfectly matched to each song. At one point, she grabbed a guitar and stood on the drumset, illuminated in light, arms extended and holding the guitar overhead as she strummed, relishing her grounding lead role amongst the discordant charm that embodies much of San Fermin’s music.

On tracks like “Methuselah”  Kaye made space for her co-vocalist Allen Tate, their voices complimented, encouraged, and enriched one another perfectly as they passionately delivered their messages while the rest of the band was enveloped in shadow, giving the illusion of two people singing simultaneously while occupying separate worlds. When the two sang duets together, such as with “Parasites,” there was a radiating admiration between the pair that reverberated as deeply as Tate’s baritone.

When Kaye took to the drums during the encore performance of “Happiness Will Ruin this Place,” “Astronaut,” and “Oh Darling,” it allowed for other members of the group to shine as brightly as she had. “Oh Darling” saw striking vocals from the newest member of San Fermin, violinist Claire Wellin.

There was a mutual respect between everyone on stage that permeated the show deeply. Between songs, they gradually introduced members of the band and held for applause. Ellis was introduced before the band left the stage for its encore, and the applause was (unsurprisingly) staggering, taking maybe even him by surprise. The reverence held by the band for its leader was felt by each person in the audience as we cheered in an attempt to convey our appreciation for what he’s created.

San Fermin’s Brooklyn Steel show was a pinnacle of their musical career, one that highlighted a band that has grown into itself and embraced its full potential. Seeing such a performance in the city where the band got its beginnings can only go down as a momentous occasion within that musical career.

LIVE REVIEW: The Overcoats @ The Red Room

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The Overcoats play The Red Room in Boston. All photos by Suzannah Weiss.

While I was planning a visit to Boston, a friend invited me to see The Overcoats at the Berkelee College of Music’s Red Room. I knew nothing about the group or the venue, but the first few songs Spotify pulled up were catchy enough. I accepted without further research. I felt like being surprised.

I entered to music that sounded like a more upbeat, less repetitive Band of Horses. And damn, could the singer dance. I soon learned that this was Adrian Galvin’s project Yoke Lore and that The Overcoats discovered them at SXSW (despite the fact that both bands hail from NYC). Like me, they were immediately charmed and invited them on tour.

Galvin, who also played the banjo alongside a percussionist, provided witty and endearingly vulnerable commentary on each number. “Hold Me Down,” he explained, is about “needing to be encompassed sometimes. I feel like I’ll float away if I’m not held down by the ones I love.” His set included equally clever lyrics like “I wish I could see stars. They say lights keep me in the dark.”

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Adrian Galvin of Yoke Lore.

After Yoke Lore left the stage and the Mai Tai I’d consumed an hour prior began wearing off, I was getting cranky. That changed once The Overcoats came walked on stage, clad in white clothing and sparkly platform shoes.

JJ Mitchell and Hana Elion hugged before beginning “Smaller Than My Mother” to wild applause. With a third member manning a drum machine and extra synths, they slowly swayed until the song’s electronic beat began to pulse. Then, all at once, they busted out dancing like friends in a club (but like those cool, stylish clubbers everyone wants to be friends with). Mitchell, whose rich, soulful voice harmonized gorgeously with Elion’s, ended the opening number with a wink.

They kept that energy up through the earlier portion of the show, running through fan favorites from their recently-released debut, Young. Right before “The Fog,” Mitchell announced, “the future is intersectional feminism.” The soul-folk duo also performed a new song called “Sirens” about “women holding each other up.” Yup, I definitely wanted to be their friend.

Having played their most popular songs in the beginning, the middle of the set lagged a bit with slower, less distinctive-sounding tracks. The Overcoats are still relatively unknown, and Yoke Lore is even more obscure. But if both acts’ energetic stage presence or the rowdy, packed room they entertained are any indication, that obscurity won’t last long.



Time Warp, an annual electronic music festival in Mannheim, Germany, represents all the worst things EDM culture has become. But before I get into the poor safety conditions, the utterly depressing morning after, and the most antisocial ravers I have ever seen, I’ll start with the one good part: the music.

I arrived around 12:30 p.m. and instantly started swaying to RØDHÅD’s dramatic buildups fading into understated dubstep beats. Behind him were extraterrestrial-looking designs, and the sound effects made me feel like I was inside an alien-attack arcade game. Then, Dubfire’s psychedelic set hypnotized me with low, growling vocals and crashing wave sounds as fish swam over the screen.

Next door, glowing red fangs appeared to swallow the stage where Chris Liebing performed, and beams of light shot down from the ceiling like lasers darting to high-pitched percussion.

But the highlight of the festival (or at least the pre-9 a.m. portion, because how does anyone make it past that point?) was Nina Kravitz’s set. Behind her were projections of bats, spiders, cobwebs, and ghosts. Some of the music gave off an appropriately witchy vibe, with menacing whispers and operatic instrumentals. Other portions transported us to a rainforest, with chirping and waterfall effects. At one point, she mixed Da Hool’s “Met Her At The Love Parade,” an ode to Germany’s famous (though now-defunct) EDM parade. We had to wait for ten minutes just to make it into the hall, once again proving that EDM’s gender problem does not result from a lack of good women DJs.

The first and second stages were connected, and if you stood in the underpass between them, you could catch two sounds at once, blending the tunes just by moving your body. I lingered there to hear the clash between Adam Beyer’s haunting orchestrals and Richie Hawtin’s upbeat, futuristic synths.

If you spent the entire time staring at the stages, the event lived up to its expectations. But aside from the fact that this would probably be a safety hazard due to the heat, that’s not all I go to music festivals for. I go to meet interesting people and make meaningful memories with them. And that’s where Time Warp fell flat, big time.

When my boyfriend and I asked to sit next to a group, they side-eyed us as if to ask why we would talk to them and turned away. We tried again with a guy sitting alone against a wall, but he’d passed out before we could open our mouths. Excluding those I came with, only three people spoke to me: one to apologize for burning a red circle onto my hand with his cigarette, and two to ask if I had ecstasy on me. When a festival runs from 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday to 2 p.m. on a Sunday, drugs go from a fun addition to a survival strategy. And people barely survived.

During my first attempt to get water, the stand only carried beer, so I had to find a new one. Once I did, they were out of water bottles and could only sell me a small cup. Meanwhile, just the feeling of my ponytail on my neck was unbearable, and I had to step outside every few minutes to escape the heat. Equally often, I saw someone escorting a semi-conscious friend out. At one point, smoke filled my lungs and trains of people flooded out coughing. Throughout the night and into the morning, I witnessed stretchers carried into the first aid tent.

I remember at the end of EDC Vegas last year, buses and cars lined up to bring us home. In the one I entered, someone put on Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” and we all stood up and danced our way home. After EDC, everyone looked thrilled. After Time Warp, they looked defeated. That festival ate us alive and spit us out with blank expressions on our faces and giant bags under our eyes. I have never seen a sight as dreary as the zombies silently retreating from the concert halls to the Porta-potties that morning.

As an American expat in Germany, the party scene has been one of the biggest culture shocks. I now go out when I used to come home. I’ve grown accustomed to the orange and blue swirls of crushed pills on club floors. Along with an aversion to “commercial” music that makes them scoff at the DJs filling Vegas clubs, Europeans treat EDM like some extreme sport you must make your body suffer to take part in.

Maybe I’m just not well-versed in the art of raving. But I guess I’m OK with that. I’m still firmly in the camp that we can appreciate electronic music without sacrificing fun, safety, health, or camaraderie. And why not admit it: I’m not above that involving Justin Bieber.

LIVE REVIEW: The Internet @ The Fonda Theatre

I was running late to The Internet. It’s never a good feeling when you’re in line to get into a venue, look up, and see emblazoned on a rooftop wall a video of a band performing inside. “Is that them?”

Luckily, it wasn’t (not completely). Tay Walker, 1/5 of The Internet, was on stage when we finally got in. “This is for all my ladies, cause ya’ll are a blessing”, Tay said with a slow smile. Unfortunately his charm only partially worked the crowd. The audience chatted quietly as the band played; couples swayed back and forth in time to the music. As talented as Walker’s vocals are, each loungey R&B jazz song moved quite seamlessly to the next, with little to no variation of tone. I felt my thoughts trail off: Do I need to hold this spot? Is there one opening act or two? Wow, that couple’s really going at it. The vibe inside The Fonda was extremely chill and I was beginning to worry it would remain that way.

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Then Durand Bernarr hit the stage.

“I love you girl, but I can’t miss you if you’re always around.” The crowd roared at the lyrics to “Around”  from his new Sound Check EP, the energy immediately shifting from hotel-lobby calm to college-party raucous. Bernarr’s presence on stage felt like a punch to the gut; he moves like a sprightly and seductive honeybee, flicking his golden scarf about the stage, engaging the crowd at every turn . He has referred to his single “Fly on the Wall” as “Brown Sugar’s Nephew”, saying that he thinks “D’Angelo might have had his hand in there somewhere.” I dare say that D’Angelo would be down for that comparison.

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Out of breath from Bernarr’s dancing, I leaned against the sound board, completely elated. Yet I also became a little concerned: Would The Internet be a snoozefest or a party?

The base line hit my spine during “Special Affair” and I knew I’d been silly to worry. The Internet presents The Internet was a mashup of high tempo beats and slow jams, a combination of The Internet songs and new material from each band member. Overall, the show ended up feeling much more like a showcase than a strictly ensemble affair; each band member took their turn at center stage, the lighting focusing the audience’s attention. We sang along to the songs we knew and encouraged new songs with shouts and hollers.

“A lot of times women don’t-don’t understand like we don’t be knowing what be on your mind. We can’t read minds. It’s just like we just wanna know what the fuck you want. Is it that hard?” Matt Martians’ performance of “What Love Is” struck a high note in the night, eliciting some laughter from the intro. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Syd’s “All About Me” was seductive and devious, the perfect date night grind.

The Internet didn’t do an encore, they had the night planned out.

Check out Syd’s Fin, Steve Lacy’s Demo, and Matt Martians’ The Drum Chord Theory. All out now.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

LIVE REVIEW: Avery Mandeville and Lords of Liechtenstein @ Pianos

I always end up sprinting through the lower Lower East Side, the annoying part 15+ minutes off the L, Mercury Lounge and Berlin and all those dive bars I’ve cried in and made out in—usually on the same night. I sprint because I am always late, just like I was late to Avery Mandeville and the Lords of Liechtenstein’s dual album release show at Pianos. It was a classic case of, “I’ve heard of them but never listened to them,” mainly because Friday’s entertainment all hailed from my area of New Jersey. I ran away from that world, that scene, harder than I ran to Pianos, but there is a hometown solidarity that forced me—and a bunch of transplants—out that night.

In New Jersey you have friends. In New York you have allies.

The bigger draw was the album cover of Mandeville’s Salty EP: the flame-haired, lilac-browed songstress on her iPhone, an adoring gaze contrasting with the “Parental Advisory” sticker clashing in the corner. It was pleasingly emblematic of her half acoustic, half electric set. Her skill is in using her silk taffeta voice—quality, with a textural stutter that tapers off certain phrases—to tell thoroughly modern stories without making it like a novelty.

The sweetness comes across unplugged in tracks like “Alexander,” prefaced that it was written during her time spent living in this “beautiful, horrible city.” Who knows what drove her out of here—for artists I see the only excuses as financial recuperation or death—but I understand the ache of “I can’t save you, I’m a stranger from the sea.” A shore siren found over her head in brackish city waters… yeah, that makes sense.

When joined on stage by her backing band the “Man Devils” (a…ha) she gets an energy boost, the wobbling guitar solos certainly not hurting her case. But her power is her own songwriting, when she brings the coarse language and internet era touches to her tracks. This is best heard in “Dick Pix,” from the “House of the Rising Sun”-esque intro to the sass behind the line, “You guys don’t intimidate me, I got my leopard jacket and my new haircut.”

Lords of Liechtenstein were next, veterans in the New York folk scene with that air of, “Wait, did I go to high school with these guys?” Fronted by brothers Noah and Dan Rouchwerk, the Lords’ fourth album Downhill Ride to Joyland is characterized through and through by ping-ponging lead vocals. It was those harmonies that I tuned an eager ear for—why form a band with your sibling if not to create such a pleasing melodic blend?

The friend who invited me to this show prefaced that the Lords were definitely “Not My Thing,” and I’m not going to counter that statement. Country folk is a hard sell, and choosing to lapse into a country accent when you’ve probably done Inkwell open mic nights and downed many, many pork rolls (Taylor Hams?), is a harder sell. Nevertheless, the part of me that loves Neil Young can appreciate the quiet beauty in “Utica,” a song about wrongful imprisonment.

Really, their schtick almost relies on a proud nerdiness, and like the argyle sweater vests they don on stage and the replicas they sell in the merch booth, they wear it fairly well. There’s a bravery in taking those unconventional, even dark detours in history, be it a theoretical Jonestown rally song with “Kool Aid” or a lament over the anti-Semitism of Roald Dahl in “Long Lost Boy.” They’re also comfortable rocking really tiny instruments, which kept my eyebrow perpetually raised. Ultimately, the Lords’ sound works best on the more leveled, gentle end of the spectrum, although I’ll cop they can pump out a very enthusiastic Paul Simon cover.

Mandeville came back to share a mic for “Satellite,” the final track off the Lords’ LP and the final song of the night. It’s another stunning song with successful vocal melding, and I couldn’t help focusing on the playful pre-song banter of “We like to be close,” “But not too close.” It’s that sense of silly familial love that feels like a happy homecoming to everyone in the room; even up front with my jaded neo-New Yorker stone-face, I couldn’t help feeling it a little.

I grew up at the shore and spent the entire time looking over the ocean for skyscrapers. I couldn’t run away fast enough, because I wanted something harder. My North Brooklyn scene of indie-grunge-post-punk-psychedelic peers certainly delivers that. It is beautiful, never horrible, but always hard. Finding that hometown comfort on the Lower East Side was a respite I don’t regret.

In New York you have allies. In New Jersey you have friends.

Stream Avery Mandeville’s Salty EP below:

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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: Ryan Sambol @ Manhattan Inn

ryan audiofemme

Is Ryan Sambol half in the bag? It’s hard to say. The at-ease Texan and former Strange Boys and Living Grateful member could be over the eight, or perhaps just relaxed.  Since I last saw him at Cake Shop in 2015, Sambol has sprouted a substantial mustache and taken to wearing an all-you-can eat cowboy hat – but I suppose that’s fair play when you hail from the Lone Star State. At Manhattan Inn last Monday in conjunction with LPR Presents, Sambol charmed the audience with his laid-back persona and oafish delivery.

The “stage” at Manhattan Inn is truthfully a sunken square surrounded by a seated audience. The artist almost appears like a gladiator or a prized Doberman in a dog pit. Sambol seemed at risk of being swallowed by the instruments around him…or perhaps by his hat. His set was sandwiched between Brooklyn’s Swoon Lake and Sam Cohen, but the Texan stole the show in my opinion, despite his rakish appearance and minimal instrumentation.

I haven’t heard word of a new album from Sambol, though the slew of unfamiliar songs in his set would suggest one. He played a handful from his 2015 solo debut Now Ritual, most notably “Dinner Where I’m Staying” and “Amazing Rain,” for which he hopped on the Inn’s shining white piano.

Throughout the gig, Sambol would accompany himself by elbowing the crash cymbal on the headliner’s drum set with stooge-like technique, almost as if he didn’t notice there was a kit next to him at all. He has a voice that can’t get out of bed in the morning but manages to be beautiful in its own hungover way. Sambol’s compositions seem like lazy cowboy takes on Harry Nilsson, late ‘60s Dylan, Randy Newman, and Van Dyke Parks, and that ‘aint a bad thing at all.

I could be mistaken, as the question mark in my notebook suggests, but I’m fairly certain that at one point between songs Sambol mumbled something like, “self is the only hell;” perhaps a more lyrical take on the Henry Van Dyke quote, “self is the only prison.” Not sure if that’s true, but I’d like to think so. Ryan Sambol surely is an odd little bird, but one with more to him than he tends to let on. I look forward to hearing what he does next.

LIVE REVIEW: The Hush Sound @ Webster Hall

the hush sound

There’s nothing that makes you feel old quite like seeing some of your favorite bands from high school showcase 10-year reunion shows of albums you can sing in your sleep. But then again, maybe these nostalgic re-enactments are some of the highlights of getting older.

Recently my favorite band from high school, The Hush Sound, went on tour for the ten-year anniversary of their album “Like Vines,” and I was thrilled to catch them at Webster Hall on August 4. I’ve already seen The Spill Canvas this past year and have plans to see Taking Back Sunday with Th e Starting Line in a few months, so yeah, these are undoubtedly the days of my life now. (Go ahead, envy me.)

In high school, Greta Salpeter was essentially my indie rock idol, so being able to see that she’s still as amazing and talented as ever was unsurprising and inspiring. The Hush Sound swept the stage at Webster with the same energy they held at shows 10 years ago—I’m pretty sure the floor was shaking from all the dancing and jumping going on. The chemistry between Salpeter and vocalist/guitarist Bob Morris is undeniable; they play together as if they’ve been jamming and quipping out stage banter nonstop for the past ten years. As they laughed and made us guess what wine they were drinking (obviously it was a pinot noir), they rocked our teenage fangirl/boy hearts with some of our old favorites. “We Intertwined,” “A Dark Congregation,” “Don’t Wake Me Up,” “Magnolia”—have they ever composed even a “meh” track? Maybe “Lions Roar,” but I’m sure there’s someone out there that lost their mind when they played that one last Thursday, too.

the hush sound

After playing through the entirety of Like Vines, the night obviously couldn’t simply end there. Not before they jammed out other hits, which of course included “Crawling Towards the Sun” and “The Artist.” It was one of those performances where I found myself singing along to the guitar and keys parts when there weren’t lyrics to follow.

Salpeter’s tinkling keys were ringing in my ears as I left Webster Hall that night, in a total and complete Hush Sound-induced bliss. Now, if you need me, I can be found wandering the streets of New York with my iPhone 6 playing music that predates its conception.

LIVE REVIEW: Madame Gandhi + Fuck Rape Culture @ Baby’s All Right

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Photo by: Anna Maria Lopez
Photo by: Anna Maria Lopez

In the midst of crisis we assume those who suffer go unheard. And certainly that is how the victim of the Stanford Rape Case must have felt when her assailant Brock Turner was sentenced to a mere six months of prison after leaving her violated and battered behind a dumpster. The culprit for such unwarranted mercy was none other than Judge Aaron Persky, though the organizers of last Monday’s fundraiser at Baby’s All Right would assert the culprit was also the rape culture we live in. “Fuck Rape Culture,” the event put on by NYC’s GIRLCVLT directly donated its proceeds to the campaign striving to recall Judge Persky’s position. Even after the Brock Turner case Persky has been found unfit to rule, as he has sentenced Ming Hsuan Chiang-the man who pleaded no contest to a severe domestic violence felony that left his fiancé beaten to a pulp-to weekend jail. Persky, after his insolently lenient sentence, then bent over backwards to make sure Chiang would be able to get to work on time each Monday.

Fronting the recall campaign is Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor, sociologist and activist. Dauber was present throughout the Turner case and took to the Baby’s stage last Monday, relaying how in court Persky “paid a lot of attention to Turner’s pain, Turner’s injury, and treated him as if his reputational injury was the injury that really mattered. And we really are here today to say enough is enough. Women and other survivors of sexual violence ― because it’s not only women ― have fought too hard and too long to be treated as if we do not matter.”

The evening was peppered with some remarkable acts including The Skins and The New Tarot. Amber Tamblyn offered an impassioned poetry reading while actress and rape survivor Rose McGowan gave an admirably vulnerable speech. Though the performer that stole my heart for the night was Kiran Gandhi, whose musical project Madame Gandhi finished off the evening with lingering beats and the appropriate amount of optimism to ignite the crowd even more.

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Photo by: Alberto Vargas
Photo by: Alberto Vargas

I’d just seen Gandhi at the Girl Power Fest last weekend, and while she never short-changes a crowd, she did seem to have phantom drum set while performing for the small Hester Street Fair. At Baby’s however, Gandhi was fully rigged with her kit, expert lighting, and badass “Ableton Queen” Alexia Riner. Gandhi, who will release her debut EP later this year and a full-length record to follow, interspersed tracks like “Moon In The Sky,” “The Future Is Female,” and “Keep Her Close” (a total banger), with informed discourse on “Herstory.” “I just have a bit of trivia, some Herstory,” said Gandhi. “If you have the answer just raise your hand and we have some merch for the person with the right answer.”

“Who was the first female millionaire?”

(Madam C.J. Walker)

“In the entire history of civilization, how many female world leaders have there been?”


I admit my hand stayed by my side the whole time. It seemed that the overarching point of this portion of her set was to shine a light on how shamefully little we are taught about women in history.

During her performance, Gandhi read from the Feminist Utopia Project, articulating a vision for the future of girlhood that equips young ladies with tools of strength and wisdom as opposed to focusing solely on their aesthetic traits.

Gandhi’s sets are multidisciplinary experiences, like the performer herself. She sings, speaks with the cadence of a great orator, conducts readings, drums wildly, beat-boxes, and engages with the crowd in ways I rarely see. She is in control while remaining warm and inviting. She is a great hope for the future of music and activism. And that future is female.


LIVE REVIEW: Girl Band @ Baby’s All Right


I’ve recommended Girl Band to a few people who were skeptical before they even listened – because of their name. I understand, because I felt that way too. According to an interview with the Quietus, that’s intentional, as they admitted “it’s a stupid name” they came up with to annoy someone at a bar. There are some other implications the name applies, whether those are intentional or not. like, is four dudes calling themselves Girl Band an attempt at self-deprecation, a compliment to the female sex, or a statement on how gender can define a band? But their debut album Holding Hands With Jamie washed all those thoughts away in a wave of noise, and it no longer bothered me.

The only things that worried me before their show last Thursday at Baby’s All Right were if their live show would be comparable to the amazing chaos of their album (especially after they had to cancel their previously scheduled Brooklyn shows due to health issues), and that I had decided that the sold-out crowd was going to be one giant mosh pit.

I was wrong; most people stood totally still, fixated on what was happening onstage. “Ooh, I think this is what they call a noise band,” someone behind me said a few songs into the set. And yeah, that’s a good place to start if you’re trying to describe Girl Band. They are definitely noisy, Alan Duggan’s guitar sounds like a machine, and some songs like a musical car crash. For most of the show Duggan and bassist Daniel Fox were just two bowed heads of messy hair, elbows moving mechanically, while singer Dara Kiely kept his head upwards, directing his tortured lyrics in the form of shouts and howls towards the ceiling above him. In the middle of it all, drummer Adam Faulkner looked oddly serene. Though they’re intense, there’s a sense of humor buried under their music. This is especially apparent in their cover of “Why They Hide My Bodies Under My Garage,” which is basically its own genre of scary dance music. The only lyrics are the title of the song, repeated endlessly over an increasingly frantic techno beat until they lose all meaning. 

Holding Hands With Jamie is based on a psychotic episode Kiely went through, which is bold enough as the subject matter of an album, but something else entirely when they sing about it in front of you. It’s almost shocking to see someone bare their feelings like he does, briefly embodying insanity without totally becoming consumed by it. For a weirdo like me, watching Kiely dance around the edge of the abyss, looking in, and then reporting back on what he found was one of the best performances I’ve even seen from a frontman. I just wonder how he does it night after night.

Read our review of Holding Hands With Jamie here.

LIVE REVIEW: Yonatan Gat, PC Worship @ Mercury Lounge

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For all of the venues we’ve lost in the past couple of years: Death By Audio, Glasslands and 285 Kent to name just a few, I sometimes find myself creeping back into Manhattan in search of a cozy room. The Mercury Lounge is one of those spots that, despite its address in the oft-maligned Lower East Side, has yet to fail me as a concert hall. Where else can you see acts as disparate as Nathaniel Rateliff and Ty Segall? Where else is there an intimately sized space with a soundman who actually knows what the hell he’s doing? Where else would Yonatan Gat be able to order half the crowd to mount the stage while the rest of us encircle him and his band on the floor?

I went into Friday night not quite knowing what to expect, an outlook I’ve always believed yields the best results. I had never seen Monotonix in their heyday, but of course was well aware of the legacy…and the riotous, hedonistic, often-flammable sets they played. Would the night end in sirens? Fisticuffs? Human sacrifice? None such luck for the sadists, but I can say us music lovers were well pleased as Yonatan Gat and Co. delivered the best live performance I’ve seen this year.

Warming the crowd for Gat was local band PC Worship, who I’ve been hearing good things about for a while now. Their set was somber and hard-hitting, with more complexity than you see from most openers. Right off the bat I catch sight of drummer Shannon Sigley, who I can’t help but liken to a young Sandy West. Aside from being ace behind the kit, Sigley is no doubt the charismatic core of the band-with a kind of sex appeal that isn’t tawdry, just plain badass. What can I say? I love a lady drummer!

Vocalist Justin Frye manages to be the technical bandleader while giving his fellow musicians enough breathing room, which makes all the more sense when you learn that many PC Worship members were once New School jazz majors. The length and the freedom of their songs speak to that fact-at one point I split for the restroom mid-track, only to return to the same song, still droning.

PC Worship is a difficult band to genre-baste. Their music is far too texturally interesting to sum-up in one word. There’s punk, jazz, shoegaze, grunge, kraut rock, space rock, jam band…space jam? Whatever you want to call them, you have to hand it to a band who’s bassist doubles as a squealing sax man, and who’s rhythm guitarist can opt for the conga while sat on a cinderblock.

I wasn’t entirely paying attention to the set up between PC Worship and Yonatan Gat, and I have my companion to thank for noticing in time that Gat’s gear was being assembled on the ground. Audience members formed a circle around the instruments and a sharp green light beamed from its nucleus. By the time Yonatan Gat, drummer Gal Lazer, and bassist Sergio Sayeg took to the…floor, there was a tangible buzz in the air.

Something I think of far too little as a music journalist is the crowd – and what an integral part of a show they are! The séance-like encircling of Gat’s band provided a panoramic view of the fans and a chance to stare into the eyes of your peers while sharing the excitement of this one moment in time.

And what excitement! We got 45 minutes of near-unpunctuated noise. Yet another genre-swapping band, the trio volleyed between psych-rock, garage, punk, surf, jazz, and just general sonic mayhem. Both Gat and Sayeg were wizzes on their respective strings, but the drummers stole my heart that evening: Gal Lazer was off the chain.

An immensely skilled percussionist, Lazer looks like Iggy Pop and drums with the thrashing insanity of Keith Moon-a sort of precise madness that you don’t see too often. His style was sexy, staccato, punk-jazz genius. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him…or his unzipped fly, the latter of which may have distracted me from the fact that his brilliant playing was emanating from a toy drum kit. He played so fast that I originally thought he was working a double bass pedal, but I don’t think those have saturated the Fischer Price My-First-Drum-Kit market quite yet.

The colorful workman’s lamps set up by each band member suddenly flicked off, leaving us all in darkness for a moment. As cheers swelled the band remained fixed. Eventually the lights slapped on again to the sound of Gat saying “thank you, very clever.” As it turns out, encores are just as exciting when the band never leaves the room in the first place.

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LIVE REVIEW: Cass McCombs @ Bowery Ballroom


Of the many adjectives one could foist upon musicians, “pure” does not top the heap. And yet no word could ring more true when describing Cass McCombs’ set at the Bowery Ballroom last Thursday. And when I say “pure,” I do not mean chaste or innocent, but pure in form. Unadulterated. Music for music’s sake, void of frills, gimmicks, and needless chatter.

Opening the evening were Soldiers Of Fortune, a band (or as their bandcamp page declares, an ANTI-BAND!) with incredible stamina given their 12-year history. Often described as a sort of “indie rock supergroup” (Brooklyn Vegan), Soldiers Of Fortune includes members of already successful bands such as Oneida, Interpol, and Chavez to name just a few. Wordlessly taking the stage, they built a layer cake of sound over a span of 45 minutes. Without stopping. Drummer Kid Millions (Oneida) was a sort of charismatic focal point-an odd role for a drummer to be sure. Kid jostled around with a playful Davey Jones air, yelping inspired nonsense throughout the epic “song.” I’d hate to describe SOF as a jam band, due to the horrendous connotations (PHISH!), however it is difficult to think of any other brand with which to stamp them. I suppose this is why labels are so discouraged in the arts.

In a pre-show interview, again from Brooklyn Vegan, McCombs expressed a desire for the evening to be a warmer for the cold weather…a kind of “wintertime orgy,” as he put it. Unfortunately for McCombs, the only sex appeal omitted that night was provided entirely by him. Watching from dead center of the balcony, I cast a wide sight on the at-capacity crowd, and much to the dismay of a hopeful orgy conductor, things were a bit stiff. (No. Not like that, perverts.) Aside from Cass’s effortless magnetism, the most sensual antic the audience could muster came from the boisterous woman to my right, shout-singing the lyrics to “Proud Mary” over a song that was anything but. Meeeeowww.

But I digress. Wasn’t this show about the purity of form? The Music? That’s right. Much like SOF, McComb’s played a nearly banter-less set, pausing between songs only a couple of times for a “thank you” or “peace.” So the fact that he and his band (including Jon Shaw, Dan Iead, and not one, but two drummers) played a two-hour-plus selection of tunes. Thrown in the mix were such greats as “Robin Egg Blue,” “Brighter,” and “Big Wheel.” Naturally, the encore was as aimless and unpredictable as a troubadour like McCombs would have it – just one big “jam.” McCombs actually is a big Phish fan, which might dock his sexy points. But not that much.

But Phish or no Phish, shouting par-drunken fans falling into me or not, nothing can spoil McCombs’s allure, let alone detract from the quality of his songs. He truly has what makes a great musician, solely on these grounds, but goes further with regards to value. He recently threw a benefit for Bernie Sanders, and his ballad for Bradley Manning surfaced on the acclaimed news program Democracy Now. Sex appeal and substance? Yes please.

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