Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rasputina: Highline Ballroom 10/29/11

Something happened this evening that in my 10 years of attending Rasputina shows, has never happened before...

They were late.

They were INCREDIBLY late. Thankfully, I'm a sociable person and got to meet very friendly and talkative people that helped pass the time rather beautifully. Unfortunately, because they were late, we got an abbreviated show.

There was a buzz in the crowd, you could feel the impatience elevating like heat. The demand for waitresses to fill patrons cups increased as the minutes waiting stretched on. We all kept looking over at the nude stage with eager embarrassment. We were all here for a show after all. Then a second event occurred that I'd never witnessed at a Rasputina show. A sudden stirred frenzy of activity began with a loud THUMP as equipment was hurled onto the stage by a roadie. An epic swarm of people began flying all over the place. Amps, pedals, a simple drum kit, and two large black cello cases were brought out. Then Daniel DeJesus stepped out and began tuning and prepping the cellos. All the clever mystery of their stage performance was revealed in the ragtag soundcheck. The quilts weren't even laid out!

Then a clearly stressed Melora stepped out in a pale lavender corset with a coordinating shredded lace lavender skirt, and a blue and white striped silk top that she wore only the sleeves of- the rest buttoned and worn across her back like a cape. One peekaboo glance at her legs and feet revealed a shock of bright cyan and dark blue vertical striped stockings with platform stiletto aquamarine pumps. She turned to us let out a strained smile and curtsied as the audience mildly applauded. Lead cello soundcheck let to a brief acapella rendition of "In Old Yellowcake" which, frankly, tickled me. An apology was given to the crowd. Apparently her home in Hudson Valley which normally only takes an hour or two to get to New York City from, instead took them TEN HOURS. That's what happens when it SNOWS in October, I suppose.

Melora is a professional, no two ways about it- she runs a tight and efficient ship- they plowed through an impressive and dynamic set that still maintained Rasputina's core outlandish stylings. Honestly, it boils down to the expression, "it was short an sweet." While I was disappointed that we didn't get more tunes, I've seen them enough times to not let it affect my love affair with them.

What was very nice to see was the mutual affectionate glances passed between Daniel, Dawn, and Melora. Their cohesion as a trio is becoming more seamless, and the music is benefitting greatly from it. They shared the same stress and trauma of their delay, and rather than being frustrated when they reached their instruments, they used the excess adrenalin to play wildly well. Eleven songs, all packing a punch were brought to the cabaret style tables. I hope it's not too long until I see them again, maybe with some new songs? Preferably when the weather is better.

The Shortest Rasputina Setlist I've ever seen, but it was still good...

Hunter's Kiss

1816, was the year without a Summer
Holocaust of Giants
Secret Message
Sweet Sister Temperance
Identity Tokens
Momma was an Opium Smoker
Transylvanian Concubine
Any Old Actress
Retinue of Moons/Infidel is Me

Oh, did I mention I was dressed as a Native American CHIEFT-RESS?!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Zola Jesus at Le Poisson Rouge

For a second I thought that it was just a coincidence that they were playing Zola Jesus' "Swords" over the PA after Kate Bush came on. I thought this until the stage began to swell with human life. From where I stood I could see a violinist, a synth player, drummer, and keyboard player. They were all uniformly dressed in telltale black, and they all had dark hair in the blue stage light that hung over their faces dramatically. It all seemed so very GOTH... something I haven't seen or appreciated in a long time.

Then a frail looking form of a waif came out in faded acid wash skinny jeans, an oversized white shirt, & an auburn fur vest. Her shockingly white platinum hair hung in heavy locks about her face. The lack of color to her hair was amplified by her nearly translucent pale skin, which was graphically contrasted by her dark, thin, and delicately manicured eyebrows. Her petite frame shocked me! She couldn't possibly be more than five feet tall and 90 pounds. I questioned whether she was human... Or Gelfling! I kept waiting for the moment of danger when she'd jump and reveal her wings like Kira, who was no doubt an ancestor of Zola Jesus. As the sound of "Swords" came to a close over the PA, I became concerned that this was going to be a "Push Play" type of performance, like Ladytron or Sleigh Bells had been. When all the music happens in post production and the proverbial man behind the curtain is revealed to be a talentless hack at the live stage performance.

I am happy to report that in the case of Zola Jesus, this is not how it went down.
Real drums, an audible electric violin, and a synth churned out living and breathing auditory pulsations to the new single "Avalanche". Then, the moment of fact or fiction was upon us. "Can Zola sing? Does her voice in concert match the vocal stylings that are so haunting, powerful, and prevalent on her studio albums?"

The answer is Yes. An unfaltering, blood curdling, bone shaking YES! The little elfin frame of Zola Jesus joyously produced a true voice of somber depth, of mournful wails, and of throaty expressive yearning. That girl can sing- and she did her goth godmothers proud! I was so relieved to discover that her set of pipes exist in the material world, and not just thanks to studio magic. Her backing band was great too, a very successfully blended concoction of synth and live instrumentation. Their stage presence was a little stiff, but Zola tried to counter that with some wild flailing and tribalistic neo-goth dancing during the bridges. I can't seem to fault the band, really, it's to be expected, the music IS very moody. When you listen to Zola Jesus it immediately gives you the impression that you're in a dark Siberian cave, gnawing on bones and crying.

Overall, I'd say Zola Jesus is an excellent new talent whose voice and songs are powerful and well produced both in recording and on stage, and the only key element missing (for me) from the show, was, a slight touch of theatrics. Nothing too heavy handed, mind you, but I think Zola and her band are still searching for their visual representation, style, and look. Will this tiny little missing ingredient keep me from seeing Zola live again? Hell no. I look forward to the next dimly lit room with Zola's mournful wails ricocheting off the walls, and so should you.

Set List:

Swords (over the PA)
Sea Talk
In Your Nature
Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake
Run Me Out

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Brightest Diamond at Littlefield

I emerged from the venue Littlefield, covered in confetti, smiling with sparkles in my eyes, and a golden pom pom in my hand. My face hurts from smiling. My Brightest Diamond & yMusic brought the house down commemorating the release of their joint-effort record "Everything Will Unwind". Their performance was the entire album in order, and my God, what an amazing work of art. The collaborative styling and mixture of such talented musicians made for an incredible live performance, one that I am happy to say I got to enjoy now, twice.

It's a special gift when you witness a group of musicians absolutely in love with the melodies they are making. As I glanced at each face on the stage (there were quite a few), I saw the same memorable expression... a slight ethereal smile, with the eyes gently closed. It was a beautiful thing to witness, such admiration amongst the musicians. I was too busy dancing in my place, lip-syncing the words excitedly, and gesticulating in time with the violins, drums, or what ever unexpected delicious sound was about to pop up to express the quiet reflection the musicians exhibited, but, I figured my enthusiasm was appreciated*. The flautist in particular stole my heart away with her passionate playing. I've never seen someone use such an unexpected instrument as a form of non-verbal expression, but in this case, I felt like she was communicating more than words could ever say. Her eyebrows furrowed with every puckered blow, then raised with every short succinct breath, the sound tittering out of that hollowed metal instrument added such a coy and playful depth to every song, I couldn't get enough of it! The flute, I've discovered is an incredibly underused instrument of human expression.

Now, let me take a moment to talk about the brightest shining diamond I've ever seen, Ms. Shara Worden. Her band was donning all black with a small sliver of shocking orange, red, and yellow felt flowers pinned discreetly on their persons, each placement varied as wildly as the instruments they played. I felt that these little pieces represented more than just their unity as a group, but also, that these musicians are a part of Shara's overall musical vision. Shara emerged demurely from the back of the stage smiling faintly and batting her eyelashes coyly. She was clad in colors of the sun this night, red-orange, yellow, and fiery balls of crinoline joyously decorated her form, then BOOM an eerie papier-mâché mask was placed upon her face, addition and subtraction symbols were slipped on her hands, and a strange ceremonial like dance was performed while the opening orchestration played. The music built up until we heard the playful, powerful, and poetic opening track to the album "We Added it Up".  

I think the first thing that hits me about Shara Worden is her unabashed approach to sound. As fragile as her form appears, her voice and the music wallop you upside the head, and demand your undivided attention, and if you're anything like me, you're glad to give it. The way the music flowed from track to track made you able to be whisked away and not even notice that you were in a crowded room (or even on earth) anymore. As well as I knew the music this night, I was still able to be positively floored by the intensity of the sound. In particular, the performance of "Be Brave" with the transition straight into "Ding Dang" hit me right in my chest. I mean this both figuratively and literally- Shara's voice belting out a lyrical demand of courage made my heart ache with inspiration. That was then paired with the deep hit of the bass drum in the middle of "Ding Dang" that actually made my sternum vibrate and had me whisper an overwhelmed "WHOA". This adoring ache continued persistently throughout the performance, and erupted just as she flew back out of the stage for an encore and played a wildly energetic version of my favorite My Brightest Diamond song, "Apples". 

The best part of this new album and this live performance from My Brightest Diamond, for me, is how distinctly individual and unique each song is. The friend I brought with me had never heard anything from My Brightest Diamond before- I don't know if you've ever gone to a show of a band you've never heard of, but, in general, when you go to a show, you go away with an idea of the music's direction and style, but because you didn't really know any of the songs, they all tended to sound similar. I knew that my buddy would walk away and be able to remember and identify each individual song, yet still understand the body of work as a unified idea. It turned out to be a completely accurate assumption. This to me is exemplary of the music created by Shara Worden and yMusic. You can't possibly forget them or their sound. You'll be walking away from their concert humming the tunes whether you're a novice to their sound or a seasoned My Brightest Diamond veteran.

I don't want you to think Shara was all business either, no, she wasn't just up there to sing and play music lovingly with her good friends... she was there to entertain. Well, entertain she did! From start to finish we got one hell of an enthusiastic performance, complete with ceaseless frenzied dancing, balloons, metallic streamer pom-poms that were thrown out to the crowd- where Shara goofily demanded us to shake them about by shouting "Let me see ya SHAKE THOSE POM-POMS!", not to mention a seemingly endless supply of confetti thrown out by the handful. By the time I left the show you would've thought I was in a parade, which essentially, I was.

We Added It Up
Reaching Through to the Other Side
In the Beginning
Ymusic instrumental
Escape Routes
Be Brave
Ymusic instrumental
She Does Not Brave the War (but She Saves the Day)
Ding Dang
There's a Rat!
Ymusic instrumental
High Low Middle
Everything is in Line (accompanied by her BFF DM Stith)
I Have Never Loved Someone

*incidentally, it was, not two seconds after the show ended, did the violinist come out and thank me for my energetic display!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Portishead at Hammerstein Ballroom 10/4/11

One word, chill. That was it. This is the only word needed to describe the vibe of the Portishead show. The beats, the voice, the visuals, and especially the crowd- every last thing whether living or synthetic, was chill. We were all there to nod our heads to the beat and listen in dumb silence to the spellbinding siren call of Adrian Utley. The hush that befell the crowd was incredible and rare to behold. I could hear the buzz coming off of the amps. It was like being in a church for a funeral mass! The eager swarms of people packed in to Hammerstein Ballroom would break into respectful adoring applause only when appropriate. Although there were a select few that would call out in the middle of the show for a sense of comic relief- most people kept their mouths shut and their ears open. This is something I don't think I've ever witnessed at a concert before.

The visuals projected on the large screen behind the band added to the overall ambience of the room- hypnotic vortexes of black and white shapes, grotesque cartoons, smoldering sunsets, and Rothko-esque blocks of color pacified and intrigued all in the same instant. It made my less than perfect view more bearable. All those bodies pressed up against each other listening to those chill bass notes and synths was a strange contrast, but one I didn't mind too much. It was a sold out show to the Hammerstein Ballroom on Tuesday night, and it was only by luck and timing that I got to go at all- so, why should I complain? Besides, it was too cool in there to be stressed out.

I wish I could tell you more but I'm getting so relaxed just thinking about the show that it borderlines on apathy and now I don't really feel like writing! I close my eyes and I can still see the eerie dream like projections of the band, the random words scattering across the screen, cartoons, scribblings breathing like they were alive to the rhythm of the music... I can still hear the drone and the beat, I can smell the surprisingly pleasant smell of weed mixed with perfume... as I write this, I can feel my head begin to nod to the beats all over again.

Just, chill.

Set List:


The Rip
Sour Times
Magic Doors
Wandering Star
Machine Gun
Glory Box
Chase The Tear
We Carry On

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Jon Brion at Le Poisson Rouge 10/3/11

Jon Brion stood before the audience with his lanky form, with his limp dark brown hair drooping in long locks that covered his enthusiastic face and gracious smirk. Donning a dark grey pin stripe suit, with a light shirt that was offset by a pastel tie with angled stripes- he looked like a classical musician about to sit before a piano and lull us into peaceful oblivion. At times, he was this classical pianist and he did grace our ears with a somber melodramatic tune that struck the nerves at an emotional angle... But, Jon Brion is a musician's musician- playing one instrument and one style of music simply won't satisfy him.

Flanked by an array of pedals, guitars, a xylophone-like instrument, various noisemakers, synthesizers, a piano, countless keyboards, a drum kit, & audio/visual manipulators, Jon Brion's stage looked more like a mad scientists laboratory then your standard concert setting. I can tell you, he lived up to the visual precedent! Muttering to himself, humming an unknown tune, throwing his guitar picks frantically into the air, and jumping frantically all about the stage, Jon Brion reminded me of Renfield in that infamous London asylum making preparations for "Master". The only difference here was that all that frantic movement had a purpose beyond blood lust. You see, his maniacal jaunts about the stage involved prepping guitars, banging at the drums to prepare for a loop, and rapping away at the baby grand piano before laying his hands on audio/visual turn tables. 

All that drama had an impressive effect on the audience, who over time became infected with the same frantic lunacy that Mr. Brion seemed to possess. Most of the show involved audience members comically shouting out a variety of song requests like lunatics between songs. The noise became so overwhelming, that you could barely make out any words! It was a true cacophonous din in that cramped the little venue, but the pleasant part was that the requests were out of adoration, not drunken idiotic aggression.

One of the most memorable moments of the concert came when Jon Brion invited hip hop artist K-Flay to the stage to do a duet of a stripped down version of R Kelly's "Feelin' on Yo Booty". Man, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. It was a REALLY good song musically, but, of course the lyrics just made me giggle uncontrollably. Immediately after the cover ended, Jon convinced K-Flay to stay for some freestyle, and she delivered some awesome rhymes with her smooth flowing yet gently raspy voice. I make no claim that I would know good rhymes from bad ones, but, her inflection kicked ass, she had a good rhythm and pace, and her voice was unique.       

By the end of the show, I could tell one thing for certain, almost everyone in there could sing, and were most likely music majors- and here's my proof; Jon actually got the entire audience to begin singing the words to the Beach Boys classic "God Only Knows (What I'd be Without You)" while he handled the musical accompaniment. It was perfectly pitched, and a LOT of fun to hear so many people happily singing. Right after this chorus-line performance, Jon Brion literally WOWED the shit out of me, by doing a musical medley montage that began with music of the 1920s, and then played a tune for every decade... until he finally made his way back to 2011. 

I've never seen or heard anything like the show put on by Jon Brion, it was truly impressive... especially it was all done on a whim with just one talented man, a/v projectors, and a stage covered in instruments. Here's hoping Jon Brion sets up camp in NYC for a little while, and gives us some more shows, like he does in LA at Club Largo.

Here's my makeshift set list-- I didn't know a good portion of the songs or their names, really, I went because I knew if Jon Brion came to my town, I should definitely catch him... 

She's Funny that Way
Someone Gets You
Why do You Do This to Yourself
Baby You're a Different Girl
Will You Get Over Yourself
Beating Up My Heart
Same things
Wrinkle in my forehead... (this was the beginning lyrics of the song)
...when I'm sad
Making Plans for Nigel (XTC Cover)
Love of My Life, So Far
...and an EPIC guitar solo
Off the Wall w/ a brief segue into Gary Glitter's Rock& Roll
Trial and Error
Feelin on Yo Booty (RKelly Cover) with K-Flay
K-Flay free style
God Only Knows (What I'd be Without You) (Beach Boys Cover)
1920s- 1990s and beyond-- Including Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Foreigner, Nirvana, Outkast and many more!