Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Music Hall of Williamsburg 9/29/2009

I have a girl crush on Karen O. Every girl should. She is the driving force in one of the few bands that have enjoyed global success while managing to maintain a shadow of their indie cred. She has a presence on stage that no frontperson (male or female) can eclipse. And she does it all while wearing pretty much whatever she wants, despite what everyone else (on Earth at least) seems to think is the latest style. Basically, she has that ever elusive je-ne-sais-quoi that makes men want her while respecting her, women jealous of her while wanting to be her best friend, and everyone fall head over heels for her. Brian Chase and Nick Zimmer are great (a band is only as good as the sum of its parts and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are pretty fucking amazing) but they’re not why you go see the band live.

So I’m going to give credit for the rapidly sold out YYY show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Tuesday to Karen O fan boys and a few fan girls, several of whom were wearing KO-style studded fingerless gloves (this fan girl only got her ticket because I’m an avid Twitter follower of NYC venues…that’s smart Twittering). The dude-heavy audience was treated to a mix of current hits off their newest album It’s Blitz! as well as rarities from their earliest EPs. They opened with "Shake It" and followed with “Phenomena,” quite possibly their truest to form rock song but managed to keep rock spirits high as the guitar sounds slowly gave way to synthesizers later on in the set. Not one song intro went by without it quickly being identified as a crowd favorite and the hits were punctuated by Karen O’s continually fearless costume changes which included neon fringe, studded leather jackets, and a day-glo ski mask. When it came time for the encore, they did the obligatory and always heartbreaking acoustic version of “Maps” before KO stated that they were taking requests. Despite shouting “Y Control!” at the top of my lungs with the rest of my new best friends, I was blown away by “Our Time.”

And then they played “Y Control.” Best fakeout ever? Everyone wins.

All photos courtesy of BrooklynVegan.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Big Pink's A Brief History Of Love

The blogs have been identifying The Big Pink as a shoegaze band. If that’s true then I may need to rethink my current stance on shoegaze (which is: I’m not really a big fan). However, music critics are putting the word “pop” in front of every “shoegaze” which is usually indie-code for “watered-down.” Maybe that’s why I like this album so much.

The London-based band holds true to the shoegaze genre with raw, distorted guitar sounds and ethereal background vocals that seem to sustain themselves throughout the entirety of the song. Coupling this with lead vocals that are actually forward in the mix and follow a determinable melody are what makes A Brief History of Love easy and enjoyable to listen to. Stand out tracks include the first single “Velvet,” the radio-friendly “Dominos” and the more mellow “Love In Vain.” Plus, back in September Pitchfork named “Velvet” one of the best 500 songs of the ‘00s. Not bad for a band whose debut hadn’t even been released yet.

Yes, the great songs are surrounded by a few fillers, but A Brief History of Love is a solid effort by a band who just may be the next big thing. “Pop” doesn’t just mean “watered-down.” It can also mean “has the ability to crossover into mainstream success.”

I Wish I Had A Pizza And A Bottle Of Wine

The lazily titled debut from Girls is dropped just in time to make you wish it was the beginning of June again (minus all the rain NYC got this year). Or perhaps you are from a place where summer-like weather is abundant year-round and you can enjoy Album in its proper context. The duo that make up Girls, Christopher Owens, singer/songwriter and Chet “JR” White, producer, hail from the hippie haven that is San Francisco, so any music they create is bound to conjure up memories of that one summer that you were really into The Grateful Dead. Oh, that was just me?

Many blogs have given Album the way-too-casually-tossed around stamp of “one of the best of 2009.” I’m not sold on that statement (I never am) but I realize the beauty of Girls is the simple songwriting technique paired with all the lo-fi grittiness the indie world has come to love. Additionally, Girls is one of the few musical outfits whose background story enhances the music for me. Owens was born into the Children of God cult where he received his first musical training busking on the streets for money. Surprisingly, the most beautiful and heartbreaking songs on Album do not recount the nightmare that must have been Owens‘s childhood. They are the product of a more brutal tragedy: heartbreak. “Hellhole Retrace” has a dreary yet hypnotic sound that lives up to its depressing title (and also happens to have the same verse melody as “Ghostmouth”) while the sunnier sounding “Lust For Life” and “Laura” have faster tempos and more playful vocals but still contain lyrics about unrequited love that are so simply true anyone with half a heart can’t help but sympathize.

All in all, Album is something you will listen to over and over again (I dare you to not get “Lust For Life” stuck in your head after only one listen) and its California-style aesthetic might be just what you need to stay warm this winter.

Friday, September 18, 2009

fun. at Mercury Lounge on 9/17/2009

My little brother introduced me to The Format (awesome website by the way) a few years ago and quickly afterward they became his favorite band. I agreed that the singer has an amazing vocal ability and their quirky songwriting approach made their sound new and yet completely accessible. He was heartbroken when he told me of The Format’s break-up and reinvigorated when he informed me of fun., the new project from The Format’s former front man (say that three times fast…okay try five) Nate Ruess. Aim & Ignite (fun.’s debut album) sounds like the natural evolution of The Format,” he says. “It’s like they never left.”

Have to disagree with you on that one Little Bro. While both bands are anchored by Ruess’s uninhibited vocals, fun.’s sound is more feel-good pop than experimental songwriting. The lyrics are insightful and the tunes are so catchy you find yourself singing along almost involuntarily. My iTunes play count for Aim & Ignite is already three times as many as any Format album.

Not surprisingly, the fun. show at Mercury Lounge sold out rapidly. Luckily I was able to get on the list last minute and dragged my very sick self to the Lower East Side. fun. did not make me regret it. Ruess’s talent is large and perfected enough for a musical theater career, but I’m oh-so-glad he belongs to rock and roll. Several times during the set his intensity was evidence by a red face, popping veins, and acute hyperventilation. He was matched by his band mates (which include Andrew Dost of Anathallo and Jack Antonoff of Steel Train) in enthusiasm and general humility and gratitude that they were able to get up on stage and be well-received by so many young fans who had wasted no time in learning every lyric on the album. I’ve tried to avoid using this word, but they look like they are genuinely having fun up there. And yes, the 4 to 5 part harmonies sound just as tight live as they do on the album.

A return of The Format? Not really. But will fun. satisfy mounds of fans both old and new? Hell yes.