Wednesday, June 9, 2010

You Should Know About Suckers and Wide Smile

I'm surprised it's taken me this long to write about Suckers. They're one of the first NYC bands I started following obsessively and I hardly miss a chance to see them when they are playing out. Today, Frenchkiss Records (which is quickly become my favorite indie label) released Wild Smile, Suckers' highly anticipated full-length debut.

The music Suckers makes is a fun mix of campfire sing-along and soaring glam rock vocals. I think their signature (besides the face paint frontman Quinn Walker tends to wear during performances) has to be the unexpected build of every song into an epic climax. "It Gets Your Body Moving," their best known song (it was previously released on their self-titled EP) starts off sleepy with the guys engaging in disinterested delivery. But the song progresses into a heart-wrenching peak that always takes me completely by surprise. I'll have the song on and inevitably get distracted by something. At about 3:50, my attention snaps back to the speakers as the song becomes an escalating-in-intensity chant that sounds more like 50 people singing as opposed to the 4 guys that Suckers is actually comprised of.

Wide Smile includes songs that will be familiar to people like me who have been fans of the band for a while. My favorite Suckers song has always been "You Can Keep Me Runnin' Around" after seeing this video of them playing it in the Time Out New York offices:

I'd scoured the internet for about a year, and it seemed their was no studio version of the song available so I've been listening to the Daytrotter session while I anxiously waited for Wide Smile to drop. After hearing the studio cut, I realize I wasn't missing much and I actually like the live version better. The fuzz and imperfections give this song, probably Suckers' poppiest, an authentic gritty feel. Contrarily, the LP's smoother production of "Save Your Love For Me" breathes new life into a song that previously seemed (to me) unfinished. "Easy Chairs," a favorite of mine from the EP is missing from Wide Smile, but that's not surprising since I have never heard them play it live. New song "Roman Candles" is a completely worthy substitute. The two songs have extremely similar melodies but "Roman Candles" includes an impossibly catchy whistling motif.

If you are not immediatlely won over by the first half of Wide Smile, do yourself a favor and stick with it through to the end: you'll find the best songs there. "Martha" has made it difficult for me to sit still in my chair all day at work (I'm thinking of proposing an at-work silent disco room for situations like this) and Walker's voice on "2 Eyes 2 C" is desperate and beautiful. Bass players should listen to "Loose Change" immediately for some serious swoonage.

Suckers have been on tour supporting equally awesome label mates Local Natives, but they return home to play a record release show at Music Hall of Williamsburg with Class Actress, Sean Bones, and Cameron Hull. Since I'm kicking myself for missing them with Local Natives at Bowery Ballroom last month, there is no way I won't be there. You should come too!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Wakey! Wakey! at Bowery Ballroom 5/20/2010

I was most worried that I would be the oldest in a sea of tweens as I made my way to Bowery Ballroom for the Wakey! Wakey! show. After all, frontman Mike Grubbs appears on The CW's One Tree Hill, or so I'm told...really! Luckily, the crowd was your usual mix of legal-aged yuppies and hipsters.

Not many people know about Wakey! Wakey! but almost everyone asks about them whenever I'm playing one of their songs. They are no doubt purely pop, but actually using real instruments (instead of a MacBook) to play music make them unique in today's game. Plus, almost all their hooks don't include any words and are sung on an arbitrary vowel, so they are easy to sing along to. I was really looking forward to this show.

But Grubbs and crew just didn't deliver. I thought their playing was lazy and uninspired. Their openers The Spring Standards definitely showed them up as far as audience engagement. They opened with "1876 - The Brooklyn Theatre Fire," my favorite track off their record Almost Everything I Wish I'd Said the Last Time I Saw You. This song is sad and sweeping and had an epic quality to match its title...on the recording. Live it just fell flat. In fact, most of their songs just weren't as good as they sound on Almost Everything... I realize that most people are going to sound better in a studio, but they way you make money in today's scene is selling tickets to shows, and no one is going to come see you play if they can listen to better versions of your songs at home.

Grubbs would be better if he had better people behind him. His band looks like a bunch of white kids with almost no personality (disclaimer: I can make this judgement because I too, am a white kid with almost no personality). The most awkward was the multi-instrumentalist/background vocalist. At one point, she started doing what I think was dancing. It was hard to watch.

So much can be said for his band, but Grubbs also needs to step up his game. When everyone else left the stage to let him do his solo thing, Grubbs said he had been listening to Beach House a lot lately (I think I'm the only one who hasn't). Then, he pulled out a sheet of paper and proceeded to cover "Zebra." I'm certain that paper had lyrics and chords on it. I'm all for covers but at least learn the song first. Playing while looking at a sheet of paper makes me feel like I'm at a rehearsal.

"Twenty Two" was definitely the highlight of the night, but that isn't saying much. I left early. Too bad. I guess I was expecting something amazing, like this video:

Photo courtesy of The Examiner.

Adam Shenk at The Bitter End 5/18/2010

I really need to get out and see some more live music. By that I mean I really need to get out and see more live music made by my friends. I know some pretty talented people.

One of the most talented is my good friend and fellow Berklee alumni Adam Shenk. Adam and I met in 2004 during our first year at Berklee when we were placed in the same ensemble. I was one of three vocalists and he was our keys player. After that semester, Adam switched his principle instrument to voice and began outshining almost all of us. At The Bitter End a few Tuesdays ago, Adam proved that switch was not made in vain.

I had seen Adam play with the The Bloodsugars earlier this year, but this was my first time catching his solo act. He was celebrating the release of his album Suitcases. It was such a pleasure to see the hard work I know Adam has been putting into his career come together in a phenomenal performance. Adam definitely has the talent and the drive needed to be successful in this industry and he is one of the few artists I've seen lately who truly knows what his sound is and it looks like he's having a great time exploring it.

Adam is one of those rare performers who can seemingly do everything. He is a knowledgeable piano player leaning towards bluesy scales that almost certainly influence the R&B/pop tunes he writes. His voice is powerful and clear and never shaky, even when he's busting a move during one of the uptempo songs (this boy can dance)! And he has an incredible command of his band. Every musician up on stage was on point and the arrangements were clear and unique. This was Berklee training put to excellent and practical use.

Adam transitioned from one original song to the next by throwing in unexpected covers of girl group hits from the 1990s. A slowed-down version of Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" was beautiful and TLC's "Waterfalls" had the whole audience singing along. Adam even performed Left Eye's "rainbow" verse successfully, though he left the rap breaks in his originals to his good friend Heightz. Adam closed the show with "If Ya Like This" from his first album. It's his best song, and available as a bonus track on Suitcases.

He's playing tonight at Union Hall, see you there?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Lazy, Hasty Coachella Write-Up (so I can finally publish much better posts)

So yes, I know it's extremely late, but I have finally written up Coachella. Don't expect anything great here...just wanted to get my thoughts down.

Unfortunately the weekend started off on a bit of a sour note. All I will say is that I will never fly American Airlines again. Though I did spot Chris Taylor, Pat Mahoney and Tyler Pope at JFK and totally embarrassed myself by acting like a total fan girl. Ouch.

The first band I wanted to see on Friday was Sleigh Bells (whose new LP Treats is rocking my world right now) and they went on at 3:30. My group and I decided that we would get there a bit early and possibly catch a bit of Wale and The Avett Brothers. It seemed as though everyone else had the same plan. We ended up waiting in line for 2 hours* for our wristbands and not only missed Sleigh Bells but Yeasayer as well. It didn't help my mood that I was also checking Twitter and everyone was tweeting about how packed the crowd was for Sleigh Bells and how Yeasayer was wearing some pretty interesting outfits. By the time we finally got in, I had given up all hopes of seeing Ra Ra Riot as their set had already started and I really needed a drink.

*This was the only mishap we experienced all weekend. Golden Voice ran a really well-organized festival. Bathrooms were (relatively) clean and always had toilet paper. Lines for food, drinks, toilets were never too long.

But my attitude changed after my first sip of Jack and Coke and Caroline and I ran to catch Ra Ra Riot. We started towards a stage that was emitting folksy-sounding music and quickly realized it was the wrong one when we were horrified by Zooey Deschanel's face/voice. We turned right and finally found Ra Ra Riot in time to hear their last three songs. I'm so glad I got to hear "Can You Tell" and "Dying Is Fine" was stuck in our heads for the rest of the weekend.

After Ra Ra Riot was Grizzly Bear. It was the first time I have seen them play and I'm sorry to say I was a bit disappointed. Grizzly Bear plays the kind of music that I would rather listen to on the record. I do like that Grizzly Bear forgoes the conventional stage setup for a four-piece band and gives all the members equal visibility on the stage by playing in a straight line, but I almost fell asleep at their show. I forced myself to stay until they played either "Knife" or "Two Weeks." Luckily, they played "Knife" (the one I really wanted to hear) and I made my way to La Roux.

La Roux looked good from a distance...unfortunately her/their (have we decided whether or not we are going to refer to La Roux as one person yet?) tent was too crowded and I couldn't really hear the music as I was viewing from the side.

So then it was time for LCD Soundsystem...I guess I won't repeat anything I've already said about the current set they are playing, but as always they were awesome. When James Murphy said they only had time for one more song and then suggested "New York I Love You" I was a bit disappointed because I was talking them up to all my friends that weren't very familiar with the band and I wanted them to hear a face-melting disco punk anthem. Then Murphy said "No, fuck it, let's do 'Yeah.'" Which is exactly what I was thinking. They killed it. And then they played "New York I Love You" anyway. Perfect.

Missed Vampire Weekend but I've seen them before. Heard they were good and played under a chandelier.

Jay-Z basically played almost every hit he's ever had. He lost his voice and brought out Beyonce to sing Mr. Hudson's part on "Young Forever." The crowd went crazy and there were fireworks. Caroline said it best when she said "Loving California but thank you LCD Soundsystem and Jay-Z for reminding me that I live in the best city."

Saturday I missed Girls and Beach House. Not really upset about that.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. They are one of Caroline's favorites. I think that some guy in the very front of the stage had hit his head or something right before the set and was bleeding. Alex Ebert or "Edward Sharpe" took off his shirt and tied it around the guy's head. So that's both very cool and very gross depending on how you look at it. But it fell in well with the hippie vibe this band exudes.

I managed to sneak a little peak of Gossip’s set but, as with La Roux, I was off to the side and couldn’t really hear much or get very into it. I did get to hear “Standing In The Way Of Control” which is probably the one song I would have chosen to hear because it’s the menu music for the Skins DVDs (Series 1) and I love that show.

The xx wasn’t necessarily a disappointment, it’s just that I wouldn’t have scheduled them when it was light out. I’ve said before that their music is best listened to in the dark. Also, they were wearing white! Wow. The xx was playing on the Outdoor Stage and during one of their songs everyone noticed that a light on the Coachella Stage had blown and caught fire. So The xx lost everyone for a few minutes as they took cell phone pictures/video. When the band had finished the song, Oliver Sim joked “The roof is on fire.” Also, Jay-Z was at the show…I think it makes more sense for him to know about The xx as opposed to Beach House/Grizzly Bear.

I missed The Ravonettes. That sucks. I missed The Dirty Projectors. I don't care.

We retired to the Beer Garden for the beginning of MGMT’s set. We initially weren’t going to go since MGMT does not have a very good reputation as a live band. But eventually we got up and made our way over. This was when they were playing “Time To Pretend” and it actually sounded awesome and we were pumped up. But then they totally fell flat and were completely boring. We left soon after. Later I heard that they didn’t play “Kids.” Always play your hits, no matter how sick of them you are.

The Dead Weather. Wait…Jack White doesn’t play guitar in this band? Let’s go.

Heard Muse was amazing.

Sunday I really really wanted to get there early enough to see Local Natives at 2:10. Luckily we had to check out of our hotel at around 11 so it wasn’t hard to convince the rest of my group to go to this show. We were a bit late, but we made it in time to hear my favorite “Airplanes” and “Sun Hands.” Local Natives are quickly becoming a favorite of mine and almost everyone else I know.

I didn’t get as close to the stage as I would have liked for Matt & Kim so that was too bad because I know how much fun their show can be if you are in the middle of the crowd like that. I think I saw a blogger make a comment about Matt & Kim’s shit-eating grins…I can’t help but agree with that but their music is so much fun and they truly look like they are having the time of their life up on stage. There was a streaker (Matt & Kim loved it) and I got to hear “Lightspeed” which is one of my favorite songs that I had yet to hear them play.

I missed Florence and the Machine. Kind of bummed.

We set on the grass for Yo La Tengo and went to the Beer Garden for Spoon.

Phoenix was pretty beautiful but I ditched it early to see Pavement. Meh.

The Big Pink wasn’t what I thought they would be. They definitely are more shoegaze-y live than they are on the record. Initially I was getting discouraged and almost left because all I heard was a bunch of noise but I stuck around and once the songs started getting a bit more discernable they definitely rocked. “Dominoes” was killer.

Gorillaz. They are a concept band of cartoon characters. I don’t think they are meant to be a live band. We left early.

Photos of Ra Ra Riot, La Roux, and Vampire Weekend courtesy of Phoenix New Times.

Photos of Grizzly Bear, LCD Soundsystem, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Gossip, The xx, Hot Chip, The Dead Weather, Local Natives, Spoon, Pavement, and Gorillaz courtesy of BrooklynVegan.

Photo of Jay-Z and Beyonce courtesy of

Photo of MGMT courtesy of Yahoo! Music.

Photo of Matt & Kim courtesy of Live 105 Radio.

Photo of The Big Pink courtesy of Anna Webber/Getty.