Category Archives: Concert Reviews

Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival 2012

Last weekend, the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival took over Williamsburg. While not as expansive as other festivals like CMJ, the close proximity of the venues made it easy to jump from show to show. You could start the night watching an unknown up-and-comer at Cameo, go across the street for one of the headlining acts at Music Hall of Williamsburg, then go a few blocks and finish the evening with a late-night set at Glasslands.

Mykki Blanco performs at Cameo Gallery - Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival - November 9, 2012 - Photo by Peter Cauvel

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Kind of Bleu’s CMJ 2012 Recap

CMJ’s annual Music Marathon recently took over parts of New York City (mostly Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Williamsburg, Brooklyn). Even without an official badge, it was easy to find a mix of old favorites and bands that could be the next big thing. Here’s our recap:

Paper Garden Records Showcase

While CMJ didn’t start until Tuesday, we spent Monday night watching the Mountain Goats at Bowery Ballroom. The following day, we headed to the Paper Garden Records showcase at the Living Room. Although we didn’t win any of the Schwinn bikes the label was giving away, we did get to see Washington, D.C.-based Pree and Conveyor, one of the buzz bands of this year’s CMJ.

Conveyor at the Paper Garden Records showcase -- The Living Room, Manhattan, New York -- CMJ 2012 -- Tuesday, October 16, 2012 -- Photo by Peter Cauvel

Terrorbird Media/Impose Showcase

Terrorbird Media and Impose’s showcase at Cake Shop on Wednesday featured some of the best performances we saw all week. Early sets from Wild International, Win Win and Michna started the day off great, but the highlight was producer Flume. The 20-year-old Australian performed songs from his upcoming debut album and even mixed in a bit of Notorious B.I.G. into his set.

After Flume, cross-dressing rapper Mykki Blanco gave a fiery performance, moving spastically around the small stage. And then, Prince Rama played songs from their new album, Top Ten Hits of the End of the World, in which they don the personas of ten fictional bands who perished in the apocalypse.

Tell All Your Friends PR Showcase

Tell All Your Friends PR held their party a few doors down at Pianos. Wooden Indian Burial Ground played a gritty, psychedelic rock set in the upstairs lounge to a fairly small crowd, but we did spot NPR’s Bob Boilen right up front.

The Delancey

Finally, we finished off the night by stopping in to see Rochester-favorites the Demos play a set at the Delancey. Despite the weird setup of the venue, the band laid their power pop on thick enough to leave an impression on NYC.

The Demos -- The Delancey, Manhattan, New York -- Wednesday, October 17, 2012 -- Photo by Peter Cauvel

KEXP @ CMJ

On Friday, we camped out at Union Square Ballroom for KEXP’s annual CMJ event. The Seattle radio station broadcast music and live performances there throughout the week, and on Friday, the tiny room hosted some incredible bands.

Wild Nothing played early in the day, followed by one-man-band Kishi Bashi, who looped his violin and voice to create complex arrangements in the vein of Owen Pallett.

Wild Nothing at KEXP at CMJ -- Union Square Ballroom, Manhattan, New York -- CMJ 2012 -- Friday, October 19, 2012 -- Photo by Peter Cauvel

The Antlers headlined the event, playing mostly songs from their new Undersea EP, like “Drift Dive,” and a few from Burst Apart“No Widows” and “Hounds.”

The Antlers at KEXP at CMJ -- Union Square Ballroom, Manhattan, New York -- CMJ 2012 -- Friday, October 19, 2012 -- Photo by Peter Cauvel

AAM Showcase

On Saturday, AAM hosted their CMJ party at Knitting Factory. The Denzels got rid of any CMJ hangover with the first set of the day. The group, who recently released their new EP, Easy Tiger, gave a powerful performance that got even the most tired concertgoers on their feet.

Fleet Foxes side project Poor Moon filled the room with harmonies, and later, Free Energy closed out the show with a bunch of new jams and favorites.

Free Energy at AAM CMJ Party -- Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY -- October 20, 2012 -- Photo by Peter Cauvel

BrooklynVegan Saturday Day Party

In between Poor Moon and Free Energy, we skipped over to Public Assembly to catch a not-typical CMJ set from Miguel. After some initial setup problems, Miguel charmed the packed room, which left many standing outside. The set was short, only four songs, but he more than proved himself.

Miguel at BrooklynVegan Day Party - CMJ 2012 - Public Assembly, Brooklyn, NY - October 20, 2012 - Photo by Peter Cauvel

The Launch Pad

We finished CMJ at Spike Hill, where Baeblemusic held their Launch Pad event. Choir of Young Believers played their final show at CMJ. All the way from Denmark, the band’s dark orchestral pop was definitely a standout of this year’s lineup.

Choir of Young Believers at Spike Hill, Brooklyn, NY -- CMJ 2012 -- October 20, 2012 -- Photo by Peter Cauvel

The Mountain Goats at Bowery Ballroom

The Mountain Goats at the Bowery Ballroom - October 15, 2012 -- Photo by Peter CauvelThe Mountain Goats just finished a sold-out four-night run in New York City, two shows at Music Hall of Williamsburg and two at Bowery Ballroom.

On the third night, the first at Bowery Ballroom, Matthew E. White opened, as he will for this entire tour. White, who arranged the horns on the new Mountain Goats album, Transcendental Youth, was a fantastic opener. He and his collective of eight fellow Richmond, Va. musicians are something of an indie reincarnation of The Band. The Dixieland jazz of “One of These Days” is the easiest to slap on comparisons, but most of his music meanders between innovative and classic.

Matthew E. White at the Bowery Ballroom - October 15, 2012 -- Photo by Peter CauvelThe warm horn swells and bar-room piano often lead to the unexpected. The jangly keys of “Big Love” gave way to congas and heavy bass. After a percussion-heavy breakdown, White’s guitar, which sometimes takes a backseat to the other instruments, led a huge flairup. “Big Love” and “Brazos,” the closer of the set, were wild jams. White took a lot of risks on his debut record, Big Inner, and he’s continuing to push it farther on stage. He was the perfect opener, but White and his band are too talented to stay in the support slot for long.

When the Mountain Goats came onstage and began playing “Love Love Love,” the crowd softly echoed every word. The quiet opener was followed by the new upbeat “Harlem Roulette,” during which John Darnielle‘s guitar began cutting out. Once the problem was fixed, he exchanged a quick glance and shoulder shrug with bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster before jumping in again.

After “Heretic Pride” and “The First Few Desperate Hours” (which Darnielle claims was the closest he ever came to giving the fictional characters in his divorce fable Tallahassee a nice day), they took a request from the crowd and played “San Bernadino.” Darnielle ditched his guitar and sang over the bubbling bass line and drum brushes, before adding a few twinkling piano notes.

The Mountain Goats at the Bowery Ballroom - October 15, 2012 -- Photo by Peter CauvelThey played two more new songs, “Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1” and “Until I Am Whole,” before Wurster left the stage. Darnielle and Hughes played “Dance Music,” in which the crowd let out a resounding cry of “I don’t wanna die alone!,” before Hughes left as well.

Darnielle played a handful of solo acoustic songs, including a cover of Wye Oak’s “Civilian.” He also did a rare rendition of “Sax Rohmer #1,” which he warned could easily turn into a disaster. He called it a “long-overdue request” for a fan in the audience who had donated money to hear it played at a benefit concert in North Carolina, but whose car broke down on the way. Darnielle claimed the lack of a clear narrative made the song easy to forget but he made it through with a little help from the audience.

Wurster came back to play “Ezekial 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace,” before Hughes rejoined for “The Diaz Brothers.” The horn section from White’s band, dubbed by Darnielle “The Transcendental Trio,” came out to play three songs from the new album, “In Memory of Satan,” “White Cedar” and “Cry for Judas.” Hughes played a fretless bass which added a smooth, jazzy tone to the songs. They finished the set with “Up the Wolves” and “No Children.”

The band was rejoined by the horn players for “Transcendental Youth” and “This Year” in the first encore. The latter was almost overwhelmingly joyful, especially with the added horn arrangement. When called back for a second encore, they covered Nothing Painted Blue’s “Houseguest,” written by Darnielle’s friend and collaborator in the Extra Lens — Franklin Bruno.

But they saved the best for last. The final song of the evening was “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.” The crowd was fired up and let loose cries of “Hail Satan!” in step with Darnielle. The music was great, but when the audience is so involved, it becomes unforgettable.

The Mountain Goats at the Bowery Ballroom - October 15, 2012 -- Photo by Peter Cauvel

Bon Iver at Radio City Music Hall

Bon Iver at Radio City Music Hall, September 22, 2012 - Photo by Peter CauvelBon Iver recently did a four-night run at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. According to frontman Justin Vernon, the shows were the group’s last in America for a while.

On September 22, the final night, Poliça opened. Although loosely affiliated with Bon Iver (Ryan Olson and singer Channy Leaneagh were in Gayngs with Bon Iver’s Mike Noyce and Vernon. Noyce also appears on two tracks on their debut album), Poliça completely hold their own.

Poliça at Radio City Music Hall, September 22, 2012 - Photo by Peter CauvelThe entire live band, except Leaneagh, was a rhythm section — bassist Chris Bierden and drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson (Olson acted as producer and does not perform with the group). They created the moody textures and rhythms to which Leaneagh supplied melodies. Similarly, Bierden, Ivascu and Christopherson all wore a gray-shirt-and-khaki uniform, while Leaneagh stuck out in a purple dress.

The cavernous Radio City Music Hall was awe-inspiring, but added a bit of a weird dynamic, especially for Poliça. Even though they played a great set, it was hard to engage a crowd in such a huge venue.

Bon Iver had no problem with it, though. Vernon and his massive band filled the stage and just as easily filled the room with their grandiose music. They spent the night intricately recreating the sounds of Bon Iver, Bon Iver and reworking a few songs from For Emma, Forever Ago. 

Early in the set, songs like “Perth” and “Holocene” were painstakingly modeled after the album versions. While the recreations of staggering beauty were most welcome, the new arrangements were the most enticing. A new “Creature Fear” with a magnificent trombone solo and bass saxophone parts from Colin Stetson and an electrified “Blood Bank” were not only surprises, but highlights of the show.

Bon Iver at Radio City Music Hall, September 22, 2012 - Photo by Peter CauvelThe set culminated with an extended version of “Beth/Rest,” the oddball soft rocker that has grown into a fan favorite, followed by two of For Emma‘s most beautiful tracks, “The Wolves (Act I and II)” and “For Emma,” with it’s trademark horn section echoing gently through the room.

Bon Iver may be winding down for the time being, but when they hit the road again in the future, it’s more than likely they’ll be carrying a few new arrangements.

Bob Mould at Williamsburg Park

Bob Mould played at Williamsburg Park in Brooklyn - September 7, 2012 - Photo by Peter CauvelBob Mould kicked off his American tour by playing Sugar‘s seminal album Copper Blue in its entirety. The show, originally scheduled for Webster Hall in Manhattan, was moved to Williamsburg Park in Brooklyn.

Cymbals Eat Guitars opened the free show with an early set. The crowd was kind of scattered around the venue, which is not so much a park as a giant slab of blue concrete. Singer/guitarist Joseph D’Agostino was plagued by guitar troubles, but that didn’t slow them down. The band screamed and sweat through songs like “And the Hazy Sea,” and their newer, less erratic songs recalled Mould’s transition away from the hardcore punk of the first few Hüsker Dü albums.

Cymbals Eat Guitars opened for Bob Mould at Williamsburg Park in Brooklyn - September 7, 2012 - Photo by Peter CauvelEven about 30 years after that transition, Mould is still a powerful force on stage. With bassist Jason Narducci and drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk, the Mountain Goats), he roared through Sugar’s debut Copper Blue.

With amps and energies high, Mould and the band made it all the way through the album without stopping for air. After the album’s closer, “Man on the Moon,”  Mould paused to talk to the crowd. Williamsburg was a fitting start for the tour celebrating Copper Blue‘s twentieth anniversary, Mould explained, since he wrote the whole album a few blocks from the park.

Bob Mould played at Williamsburg Park in Brooklyn - September 7, 2012 - Photo by Peter CauvelThe tour also supports Mould’s newest album, Silver Age. After the brief pause, they played three songs from that album, “Star Machine,” “The Descent” and “Round the City Square.” The songs, especially “The Descent,” sound heavily influenced by Sugar. After “Round the City Square,” they played a set of Hüsker Dü songs: “Hardly Getting Over It,” “Could You Be the One?,” “I Apologize” and “Chartered Tips,” before closing with another new song, “Keep Believing.”

When the band came back for an encore, they brought up Craig Finn from the Hold Steady. Finn, dragging his mic stand all over the stage, shouted the words of Hüsker Dü’s “Something I Learned Today.” After Finn left the stage, Mould, Narducci and Wurster did another classic “In a Free Land.” The crowd demanded a second encore, though, and the band came back to perform “Makes No Sense at All.”

Craig Finn sang with Bob Mould at Williamsburg Park in Brooklyn - September 7, 2012 - Photo by Peter Cauvel

Hospitality at Brooklyn Bowl

Hospitality at Brooklyn Bowl - August 31, 2012 - photo by Peter CauvelA few weeks ago, I was walking around the town of South Plainfield, New Jersey, listening to Hospitality on my headphones. I had just left my upstate New York home to move to New York City, but I hadn’t quite made it yet. Songs like “Eight Avenue” and “Friends of Friends” are literal takes on the group’s Brooklyn lives, so Hospitality was the perfect soundtrack as I daydreamed about moving into the Brooklyn apartment we’d found (which we did move into that weekend). The colorful indie pop washed away the nerves about getting an apartment and making it somewhere new. So it’s only fitting that the night before we moved in to our new place, my girlfriend and I went to see Hospitality. They played a free show at Brooklyn Bowl on Friday, August 31.

It was surprisingly uncrowded, especially for a free show. When opening band ARMS came out, people eventually started to trickle away from the bar, but it still seemed like a small audience. Since Harlem Shakes fell apart in 2009, guitarist Todd Goldstein has turned ARMS from a solo side project to a full band. There are definitely shades of Harlem Shakes in his new music, but ARMS is still distinct.

Hospitality ended up on stage probably around 10. They played literally their entire self-titled album, plus a couple of new tracks — including the live debut of “Experience.” Their delightfully poppy songs like “Liberal Arts” and “All Day Today” are even better live than on record.

Amber Papini leads the band — both her vocals and guitar lines offset the rhythm created by bassist Brian Betancourt and drummer Nathan Michel. Papini’s diction can call to mind a more-Brooklyn version of Camera Obscura, and sometimes the music’s not far from it either. But more often than not, Hospitality just sound like themselves, and it sounds great.

Mumford & Sons at CMAC

Unlikely pop stars Mumford & Sons played in front of a large crowd Tuesday night at Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center. Photo Spencer Tulis/Finger Lakes Times

Unlikely pop stars Mumford & Sons played in front of a large crowd Tuesday night at Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center. Photo Spencer Tulis/Finger Lakes Times

Mumford & Sons are unlikely pop stars. The four British musicians wielding traditional folk instruments like banjos and mandolins somehow managed to break into the American mainstream.

They attracted a huge crowd to CMAC on August 7 and entertained with an energized show.

Singer-songwriter Aaron Embry opened the triple-billed show with an acoustic set. Alone on the stage, the barefoot Embry plucked a four-string tenor guitar. His melodic picking recalled classic country, but his solemn harmonica was pure Neil Young.

After Embry, California rock band Dawes took the stage. The group looked straight from the ’70s – shaggy hair and button-up shirts tucked into their jeans – and sounded like it, too. Singer/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith lays on thick Jackson Browne hooks with Byrds-style guitar riffs that create a warm California sound popularized by the aforementioned bands. As they played their first few songs, “Time Spent in Los Angeles” and “Coming Back to a Man,” people flooded in, as if drawn to their music.

Goldsmith was the only guitarist in the four-piece band, but bassist Wylie Gelber and keyboard player Tay Strathairn round out the music, filling the gaps during guitar solos. He usually sang memorable, simple melodies, but Goldsmith often showed he could really belt out his songs, too. His brother Griffin, the group’s drummer, and Straithairn also threw their voices in on “Fire Away.” Each of the singers took a vocal solo before coming together in a three-part harmony.

Dawes played a new song from their upcoming third album, followed by the heartfelt “A Little Bit of Everything.” They closed with “When My Time Comes,” with help from Marcus Mumford on vocals and guitar.

Following a short break, Mumford returned to the stage with his bandmates, Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall and Ted Dwane. They began playing a new song, “Lover’s Eyes,” on a dark stage. Mumford softly strummed his acoustic guitar before both the music and lights erupted. As the stage lit up momentarily, so did the crowd, but even in the dark, “Lover’s Eyes” kept building – Mumford pounding the bass drum at his foot, and Marshall furiously picking his banjo.

When the song fell to a close, they went into one of their biggest hits, “Little Lion Man.” The group’s four members stood in a straight line across the stage, now permanently lit. Hanging lightbulbs, strung from the rafters, illuminated the arena.

Mumford & Sons played most of the songs from their debut album, Sigh No More, and a handful of new ones. While the earlier tracks were often boisterous stompers, the newer material finds them growing into their mainstream success.

Mumford sat behind a drum set to sing a few songs and Marshall exchanged his banjo for electric guitar, but the band hasn’t completely abandoned folk rock in favor of mid-tempo pop music. Their new single, “I Will Wait,” had the energy and pounding bass drum of songs from Sigh No More.

They invited Dawes back onstage for “Awake My Heart,” before closing with “Dust Bowl Dance.” Their encore included the horn-heavy “Winter Winds” and a new song, “Where Are You Now?,” but the obvious favorite was the finale, the massively successful single “The Cave.”

Mumford & Sons’ formula for a pop hit is a strange one. Folk instruments and harmonies don’t really make platinum records anymore, but they blew past expectations for mainstream success. It doesn’t necessarily make sense, but it sounds fantastic.

Originally published in the Finger Lakes Times
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
“Unlikely pop band goes mainstream”