Category: Live From the Cheap Seats

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on April 23, 2016.


Though it’s often viewed as a regular music venue, Le Poisson Rouge, located in New York’s Greenwich Village, was conceived as a place for contemporary classical music. No wonder Sarah Neufeld seemed so at home. With NYC as the last stop on her North American tour, the violinist put on a performance that had the entire crowd enraptured by her playing, her voice and a special guest.

To start the evening though was a set by ambient drone artist Alexandra Drewchin, known as Eartheater. Armed with just a guitar, an assortment of pedals and her voice, Drewchin weaved together a captivating set that pulsed with microbeats and flew with her choral singing. For you movie buffs though, it sounded like a sedated version of the beat-heavy opera performance from The Fifth Element.

Neufeld started her set without much fanfare, walking onstage alone with her violin. But far from limiting her sound, she quickly proved that her instrument and her voice that’s needed to put on a mesmerizing concert. In addition to the endless fascination of watching an artist of her caliber perform, with her hands gliding over the violin with seemingly no effort, the music itself lost none of its scope or ambition in its transition to the stage.

While a solo set would have still been a great show, Neufeld did get some instrumental backup throughout her set. As she played through most of the material on her excellent new record, The Ridge, she was joined first by Stefan Schneider on drums and later on by that special guest, multireedist Colin Stetson. Whether he was on the saxophone or the clarinet, Stetson’s earthy tones helped to keep Neufeld’s airy, wind-swept melodies grounded. It was wonderful to see two artists connect so strongly onstage, sometimes playing equally to each other as they were to the audience.

Still, whether by herself or with others, Neufeld brought the power and strength of an entire orchestra. After an hour of music, the composer fully earned her standing ovation and could be seen surrounded by fans after the show. In her hands, contemporary classical music is alive and well.

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on September 26th, 2011.

Earlier this year, English quintet Elbow ran through a string of arena tour dates at home, performing to thousands of fans, which included a performance on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury. Yet over here in the States, they’re headlining shows at venues like New York City’s Terminal 5. Sort of a mindfuck. Though, similar to Muse years back, they’re still working on breaking through in America. If last night’s performance is any indication, they’re well on their way.

Before Elbow arrived to near mass hysteria, Glasser walked out for a sweet and stunning set. When it comes to opening statements, there are few braver than singing your first song unaccompanied. Cameron Mesirow’s passionate vocals had the usually loud New York crowd silent with rapt attention, a respect that lasted for her entire show.

Screams followed shortly after, signalling headliners Elbow. Now, frontman Guy Garvey makes it no secret that he’s excellent at what he does. Despite some cheesy hand swaying with the crowd, Garvey made it fun by saying a concert is the one place where everyone can act like a dick together. Attitudes aside, he was still highly engaging.

The band moved through their collection of emotional songs, starting off with an explosive punch of “The Birds” and “The Bones of You”. “Mirrorball” had the venue swirling in lights. “Grounds for Divorce” was banged out with some assisted drumming from Garvey. However, the most special moments arrived near the end of their set. Elbow played the first half of “Weather to Fly” towards the back of the stage, just to each other, celebrating their 20 years together with a shot and a song. Closing with “One Day Like This”, the audience harmonized with itself, an experience almost unheard of without direction.

Whether the song was from this year’s Build a Rocket Boys!, the Mercury Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid, or further back in the catalog, there was love in the air for this band. Hopefully that feeling will continue to spread, giving Elbow the attention in America that it deserves.

Elbow Setlist:
The Birds
The Bones of You
Neat Little Rows
Grounds for Divorce
The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver
Great Expectations
The Night Will Always Win
Puncture Repair
The River
Lippy Kids
Weather to Fly
Open Arms

Station Approach
One Day Like This

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on July 21st, 2011.

It’s crazy to think that U2 has been on the road with their giant 360° tour for more than two years now. As some of the stats that popped up onscreen before the show told us, 17 babies were born to the crew members during the trek. That’s a long tour. Despite the fact that there are only a few cities left to go and exhaustion must be setting in, those four Irish boys still put on one of the most massively stunning and incredibly energetic shows around this year.

Before the Irish rockers achieved liftoff in their giant claw spaceship, Interpol arrived to entertain us during the countdown (I apologize for all the space jokes). While their music is well-suited to theaters, it works far less in New Meadowlands Stadium. The massive size of the stage overwhelmed the band, whose members appeared nervous in front of such a large crowd. Still, they tried their best, knocking out songs from all four albums. Most of the band appeared lively, but singer Paul Banks was a black hole of dullness, sucking out any energy that could have been there. Another mistake was playing very little from 2002′s Turn on the Bright Lights, especially the lack of “NYC” for the New York crowd.

Soon enough, “Space Oddity” ringed in over the PA, announcing the imminent appearance of the main attraction. The sounds of the song mixed with Edge’s guitar, ripping into the riff of “Even Better Than the Real Thing”. The slightly remixed version was a shot of adrenaline to an already frenzied crowd. How do you follow such an excellent opener? You play three more songs from Achtung Baby. “The Fly”, “Mysterious Ways”, and “Until the End of the World” made for the musical equivalent of a big bang. On it continued with many of the band’s singles, both recent and ancient. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “One” were gospel sing-alongs. “Beautiful Day” featured an appearance from Commander Mark Kelly on the International Space Station. “Vertigo” and “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” were explosive. “Where the Streets Have No Name” was transcendent.

Among technological feats like the expanding beehive video screen, the moving ramps, and the neon steering wheel microphone Bono swung on, the best moments were the unscripted ones. Bono read off the band’s setlist from the first time they played New Jersey, 30 years earlier, which included three songs from the main set repeated in the encore. Edge told the story behind “Stay (Faraway, So Close)”, before accidentally starting “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” instead. A laugh and a joke later, the song eventually surfaced and included a Frank Sinatra snippet. Towards the end of the concert, Bono had a fan pass up a sign to him that read “For Clarence.” The band dedicated “Moment of Surrender” to the late E Street Band saxophonist. By this point, it looked like everything was wrapped up, but Bono yelled out “One more!” to the audience as U2 slammed into “Out of Control”.

At 26 songs, the gig equaled the record for the longest U2 show. Even with that length, every single song worked. Nearly every album in U2’s long catalogue was represented. The combination of their massive hits collection, the jaw-dropping stage, and the band’s colorful personalities made for an unforgettable evening. With a concert like this, two years still doesn’t seem like enough.

Photography by Ayaz Asif.

Even Better Than The Real Thing
The Fly
Mysterious Ways
Until The End Of The World
I Will Follow
Get On Your Boots
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Stay (Faraway, So Close)
Beautiful Day
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
Miss Sarajevo
City of Blinding Lights
I Know I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight (Remixed Version)
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk On

Where the Streets Have No Name
2nd Encore:

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender
Out of Control

This article was written with Dana Grossman. It first appeared at Consequence of Sound on March 29th, 2011.

It’s coming up on midnight at Terminal 5. Among the dancers on the second level of the venue is a raver with an extra dose of crazy in him. He’s dripping in sweat, so much so that his green t-shirt looks like it was dunked in a pool. Yet, despite a state of near exhaustion, the driving drum beat of “Yeah” is better than a shot of adrenaline to the heart. Within seconds, he’s screaming along to the song and jumping just as wildly as before. This is only the first of LCD Soundsystem‘s final shows.

Despite what appears to be the end of James Murphy‘s dance-punk revolution (at least in a live venue), he isn’t letting his fans become morose by the news. Instead, it’s time to celebrate. That’s what LCD did for three hours Monday night. Whether the songs were as familiar as “All My Friends” or as rare as “Freak Out/Starry Eyes”, the band knocked them out with the same energy and enthusiasm that his loyal fanbase had as they bounced to every beat.

Before Murphy’s timeslot began though, ’80s post-disco group Liquid Liquid had their shot to get the crowd going. After a series of technical mishaps at the start (more the fault of the equipment than the band), they got moving with their groove-based jams. While the first couple of numbers were pretty good introductions to their funk/dub reggae style, the rest of the set was underwhelming. Due to its heavy focus on rhythmic instrumentation, including Salvatore Principato’s voice, many tracks sounded too similar to be distinguished from each other. It made for intriguing background music as the audience chatted but didn’t work as much more.

Soon enough though, LCD Soundsystem made its way to the stage and kicked off its set with three of the strongest songs from This is Happening. “Dance Yrself Clean” built up into an explosive climax, leading into the always-fun “Drunk Girls”, and the soulful croon of “I Can Change”. The rest of the first set was full of bunker-bursting beats and quite a few of Murphy’s best known works. The combination of “Get Innocuous!”, “Thrills”, and “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” was electrifying for both the band and the audience. The first hour ended with the closest thing to an arena anthem he’s written. The jittery keyboard that you can listen to forever? A slippery bass line that weaves along the track? The loudest singalong of the evening? Of course, it’s “All My Friends”.

After a short break, the group return for hour two: hardcore fan edition. If you think this means lesser known songs from LCD’s albums, you’re not there yet. Nearly every song from this set was off of Murphy’s 45:33 EP. Yet, despite the unfamiliarity to some, the crowd ate it up. The addition of a trumpet section to play selections from 45:33 was a welcome change to the band’s live formula and made for a spectacular, original performance.

The final third of the set was where all the gold was though. LCD followed the adage “save the best for last” to a ridiculous degree. Don’t believe me? Well, for starters, the band opened with “Us v Them”. Not enough? How about an insanely aggressive and shattering version of “Yeah”? That’s not even including the excellent back-to-back segments, such as “Tribulations”/”Movement” and “Someone Great”/”Losing My Edge”. This last section utterly transformed the already frenzied into a more frantic state. The show essentially became a rave for a while, with hardly anyone sitting down. The only people in chairs and on the floors were those too exhausted from dancing to stand.

Things did get emotional once the night reached its end. After a heartfelt thanks, Murphy beautifully sang his tribute to LCD Soundsystem’s hometown in “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down”. It was only during that song that the sense of what we were about to lose set in. It was a sad moment for everyone there, but if the band had to retire, they’re doing so in a perfect manner. So many great groups go out with a whimper. Not only did LCD Soundsystem go out with a bang, but with one that was custom-made for their fanbase. There’s no better way to respect your legacy then playing to those who made it possible.

Dance Yrself Clean
Drunk Girls
I Can Change
Time to Get Away
Get Innocuous!
Daft Punk Is Playing At My House
Yr City’s a Sucker
All My Friends

You Can’t Hide (Shame On You)
Sound of Silver
Out In Space
Ships Talking
Freak Out/Starry Eyes

Us v Them
You Wanted a Hit
Someone Great
Losing My Edge
New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

Photography by Dana Grossman

This article was written with Dana Grossman. It first appeared at Consequence of Sound on March 7th, 2011.

When your performance goes through a massive change, whether its new songs, new surroundings, or new band members, it can take some time to get used to. For Astronautalis, though, the transition from a solo show to having a full band behind him has improved every aspect of his live act, and he proved this on Saturday night at Santos Party House, where excited fans witnessed him tear through songs both new and old alike. With two extremely talented opening acts to boot, you arguably have one of the best tours currently on the road.

Two Lights unlocked the night, though they weren’t in unfamiliar territory as the rock band call New York City home. While the venue was still filling up, the four man ensemble easily captured people’s attention with their catchy songs and impressive guitar work. Keyboardist Abner Willis seamlessly transitioned between the keyboard, guitar, and vocals, showing off his diverse talents while his brother Harper played lead guitar and took over vocal duties on several of the songs. Behind it all, bassist Ryan Gross filled out their sound with a steady, propulsive rhythm. They weren’t an opener that you would have expected for an act like Astronautalis, but it didn’t matter; they had the kind of sound that any music fan would enjoy.

While Two Lights’ performance was great, the next act was more in line with Astronautalis’ style. A member of the Minneapolis hip hop collective Doomtree, Sims is a straight-up rapper who discusses serious issues but in an upbeat, party-like way. From the moment he hit the stage to the moment he left, everyone was moving. Sims dominated the small stage, running over every inch of it as he spat out blistering, kinetic rhymes. The stage wasn’t enough for him, though. He ran out into the crowd several times, getting everyone around him jumping and screaming. With fellow Doomtree member Paper Tiger supplying the beats, Sims raced through song after song without losing his breath or place in the rapid rhythm. By the time his set finished, most of the crowd started begging for an encore.

After a short break, Astronautalis waltzed on stage to start the set everyone had been looking forward to. For those of you who have seen him before this current tour, it’s not the same show you might remember. Gone is the case of one man rapping and singing over a backing track. Astronautalis now has a band, complete with guitar, drums, backing vocals, and a laptop. If you haven’t seen this artist yet, go to a concert as soon as possible. You’ll see one of the most furiously energetic, infectious live performances out there. The band started the set with a new song about alchemy before swinging straight into two Pomegranate tracks back-to-back. “The Wondersmith and His Sons” had the entire crowd singing along as Astronautalis threw himself off the stage. “The Case of William Smith” was stripped down for the first half with the whole band kicking in at full force for the remainder of the song.

It continued on like this throughout the night; unreleased song played alongside old favorites and rarities. The new tracks varied in every way, from the style to the format to the tone. The only thing that wasn’t different was the audience’s reaction, which ate it up with rapturous applause. As for his back catalogue, the addition of a live band allowed the rapper to try some songs that he felt would “sound stupid” with just him and a laptop, such as “Barrel Jumping (A Man of Letters)” from 2006’s The Might Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters. Probably the biggest highlight of the set came towards the end of the concert. Astronautalis invited Sims up on stage to perform a new track together, but he was nowhere to be found. Instead, the band slammed into a riotous performance of “Trouble Hunters”. Right as the song appeared to end, Sims showed up and the two rappers had an astounding back-and-forth performance of the new track. Once he left, Astronautalis started talking about how awesome Sims is before screaming out “One, two, three, four!” as the band exploded into the final chorus of “Trouble Hunters”. It doesn’t get much better than that.

All of the above is more than enough to make an excellent show. But there was the added bonus of Astronautalis’ trademark freestyle raps. For every concert, he takes a few suggestions from the audience and forms a rap off the top of his head. These aren’t your average, everyday topics, either. On Saturday, he combined The Goonies, Robocop, Hip-Hop Hell, Odd Future, Peter Fonda, a day in the life of Gary Busey, and stalking Whitney Houston’s pets over the course of two freestyles. The only downside was the poor mix Santos Party House supplied. Despite repeated requests for louder audio, the vocals were muddled among the other instruments. At one point, though, he stopped the music completely and rapped with silence to make sure the crowd could hear what he had to say.

By night’s end, the crowd left Santos Party House exhausted. Between rocking out to Two Lights, dancing with Sims, and the pure energy of Astronautalis’ performance, it was difficult not to be tired upon leaving the venue. Definitely the good kind of tired, though, where you wake up the next morning feeling refreshed…and in this case, with some albums in mind to get.

Holy Water
The Wondersmith and His Sons
The Case of William Smith
The Woods
Gaston Ave
Xmas in July
Barrel Jumping (A Man of Letters)
Measure the Globe
Midday Moon
Trouble Hunters
Untitled new song with Sims
Short Term Memory Loss

Photography by Dana Grossman.

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on September 26th, 2010.

After Ra Ra Riot’s recently released album, The Orchard, proved to be somewhat disappointing, thoughts moved on to how the record would translate live. At the Music Hall of Williamsburg, the quintet’s latest stood well alongside their older hits in a set that catered to both hardcore and casual fans alike. First though, We Barbarians and North Highlands took to the stage to warm up the small, yet excited crowd. Both acts put on very different performances that displayed a lot of energy and future promise.

These days, it seems rarer and rarer that you get an opening act that gets the audience as pumped as the main band. We Barbarians definitely succeeded though on getting the Brooklynites dancing and jumping around. You remember when you were in a classroom in grammar school and couldn’t wait to get out so you could run around the playground? Well, for We Barbarians, replace classroom with a 3,000 mile car ride from L.A. to New York and replace the playground with the stage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. From the first song to the last, this band did not stop moving. Guitars were swinging, foots were stomping, and faces were grinning at the overwhelmingly positive their brand of rough indie rock received. Expect to see these guys headlining at the Music Hall themselves soon enough.

Next up was the calmer, less entrancing psychedelic sounds of North Highlands. The quintet’s set was performed really well, but failed to captivate the audience’s attention. In between songs, and even during softer numbers, conversations could be heard taking place all over the venue. Still, North Highlands won a good portion of the crowd over with quick energetic punches and more epic, arena rock-style songs such as “Sugar Lips”. The best performers were both frontwoman Brenda Malvini, who alternated between playing the keyboard and jumping to the beat, and drummer Jasper Berg who joked with his bandmates as well as the audience.

After what felt like a long set-up time, Ra Ra Riot took the stage to “A Manner To Act”, a song off their first EP and a surprising choice to open the show. While the few hardcore fans who knew the track were happy, the rest of the crowd looked on in confusion. Luckily, the following four numbers, “Boy,”  “Each Year,” “Oh, La”, and “St. Peter’s Day Festival” officially started the band’s homecoming party.

While Ra Ra Riot has always had a charm in their live performances, assisted by Wes Miles’ natural talent as a frontman, it was clear that years of constant touring had boosted their confidence and showmanship. Bassist Mathieu Santos held his bass like a dance partner, swinging around while still playing with precision. Miles’ attempt at playing guitar on “Kansai” was nervous yet competent for his second time (though a crowd-thrown tambourine seemed much more his style). The most improved member though was drummer Gabriel Duquette, whose addition of drum rolls and fills gave new life to familiar hits like “Too Too Too Fast”, while propelling The Orchard’s tracks forward.

While songs from The Rhumb Line were still the better received, The Orchard works much better live than it does on record. “Too Dramatic” and “Massachusetts” were played with so much conviction and joy that the crowd’s unfamiliarity became a moot point. The setlist was well-built as a whole, alternating between their two albums to avoid a string of lesser-known tracks. More surprising than what was included was what was excluded, namely fan favorite “Run My Mouth” and the soulful “You and I Know”. The former always created a wonderful singalong that was missed and the latter would have been a fairly unique live track in Ra Ra Riot’s catalogue.

Despite minor setlist setbacks and a couple technical difficulties, Ra Ra Riot’s return to Brooklyn came off as energetic and joyful as their shows in support of their debut. All that’s changed is that they’ve improved in both showmanship and musicianship. If they keep performances like this up, it seems doubtful they’ll still be playing such small venues in another two years.

This article was written with Dana Grossman and first appeared at Consequence of Sound on September 10th, 2010.

(Photo by Dana Grossman)

The Brooklyn Bowl, more well-known for its DJ sets and…well…bowling, isn’t the ideal venue for a rock concert. Despite the bum location, School of Seven Bells still played to a sold-out crowd in Williamsburg, ready to play their special brand of electronic dream pop. One might expect the sound of bowling balls crashing against pins to interrupt the music, but there was certainly enough noise coming from the stage to drown even that out. Unfortunately, not all of this noise was pleasant to the ears.

Before the crowd got a chance to lose themselves in School of Seven Bells’ set, they were treated to two very different opening acts. Both Shigeto and Active Child may seem like odd choices for the show, but they represented two sides of the Seven Bells coin. Combine Shigeto’s electronic noise art with Active Child’s gospel-tinged ambience and you essentially have written the formula for the headlining act.

Shigeto’s Zachary Saginaw, touring member/drummer for Seven Bells, brought on a friend to join him as guitarist and fellow synthesizer player. The musically mental compilation was a mix of drums, guitar, and electronica, giving the venue an ambient and almost rave-like sound. While their abstract and improvised-sounding music was attention-grabbing at first, the length of their act (about 45 minutes) combined with their style led to some redundancy. With no clear songs, it faded into little more than background noise after half an hour or so. While Saginaw’s impressive drum solo at some point brought some more life to the ambience, he didn’t even give time for the audience to applaud before heading right back to the synthesizer. The lesson here? It’s tough to listen to rave music if there are no opportunities to dance.

If Shigeto faded into the background, then Active Child slinked its way up to the front with its delicately haunted arrangements. Starting off on a harp, the project’s founding member, Pat Grossi, let out a trembling falsetto that glided over the crowd as smoothly as his hands glided over the strings. Beautiful, earthy arrangements made their way through the speakers, picking up bits of electronic ambiance along the way. The first half of the set should have been retitled Music for Lord of the Rings, creating a soundtrack for grassy hills and long journeys from Rivendell. The second half was a combination of what a dance party at Minas Tirith would sound like, and good old-fashioned guitar rock. Even though the sound varied, the band’s personality and Grossi’s impressive vocals remained intact.

After a pretty short setup time, School of Seven Bells arrived from the rafters for an hour-long set. While they first appeared a little nervous, they quickly relaxed by the second or third song. The band didn’t talk to the crowd much, instead letting the floating, dual vocals of sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza keep everyone’s attention. The group was all business, quickly moving from one song to the next, but they looked like they were having a good time as well. In terms of the actual music, Seven Bells sounded much rougher than on their well-polished albums. This definitely helped to give the group a more dynamic sound, letting them improvise and adjust as needed. From an aggressive “Half-Asleep” to the whistle melody of “Windstorm”, the set covered ground from both of the band’s records in tighter and sometimes unexpected ways. The person everyone’s eyes were on, though, was guitarist Benjamin Curtis, who proved to be a monster on the six-string. Whether he spent the song pushing the several dozen pedals at his feet or swinging his instrument around like a madman, it was all done with both precision and a sense of wild abandon at once.

While School of Seven Bells had really refined musicianship and instrumentation, they’re the type of band that needs a really good sound system to work. Sadly, the one they had at Brooklyn Bowl didn’t cut it at all, severely hurting their performance. First off, the vocals were way too buried in the mix, making it impossible to distinguish anything the sisters were singing or saying.  Secondly, the guitar effects became way too shrill, sounding more like feedback and deafening white noise at times. As a result, headaches were plentiful by the end of the evening. With better equipment or a better venue, the music would have soared, which makes the crippling technical problems that much more painful.

School of Seven Bells looks like a band that’s still forming their live identity, but are definitely on the right path.  With Curtis’ intense, effects-laden guitar and the harmonies of the Deheza sisters, the band looks to only grow in popularity. Hopefully, next time around, they’ll have the equipment to match their musical ambitions.

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on August 23rd, 2010.

Rave concerts have always been an interesting scene. In some ways, people are there to dance all night to the loudest, most abrasive beats they can stand. On the other hand, the crowd is also there to see a group like Crystal Castles perform, giving them a chance to jump around rather than solely show off their moves. As part of their HARD Summer Tour, the electronic duo gave everything their fans wanted and more. That is, except for a good set length.

HARD Summer is a series of shows all headlined by everyone’s favorite techno duo. At each stop, the show comes packaged with a variety of opening DJs that keeps the crowd screaming and dancing throughout the night. The progression of acts worked really well at Terminal 5, slowly building the crowd into a frenzy as each artist brought something different to the mix.

After a mildly disappointing set by JDH and Dave P, the crowd’s quasi-apathetic mood quickly went out the window once Destructo arrived. It was almost like someone threw a switch. Suddenly, the front of the DJ booth and the wall behind it lit up in visual overload. Screens displayed everything from random genres, stuttering across the LEDs to a backdrop of multicolored cassettes to random Japanese anime drawings. Then there was the music. Destructo stands as one of the most aptly titled artists around, because when his set goes off, it feels like the world is ending. Off-kilter beeps sounded like the Close Encounters of the Third Kind aliens, if only they were hostile. Soon afterward, the floor shook with what can only be described as a musical rendition of a T-Rex roar.

After more than an hour of Destructo’s extremes, Sinden brought things back down to Earth. If the former came off futuristic and apocalyptic, the latter felt grounded in the here and now. On the whole, Sinden’s music dove deeper into worldly influences, moving between rock and world music, engaging the crowd and encouraging them to dance harder and shout louder. A few times, he would stand on top of the deck, getting the audience to clap along with him while the programmed beats went off below. To Sinden and Destructo’s credit, the two masterminds unleashed just the right amount of energy to keep feet in the air but legs in perfect shape for Crystal Castles.

Finally, after three straight hours of dance music, Crystal Castles hit the stage at almost one in the morning. The stage was rearranged to a drum set, a series of lights against metal structures, and a synth for Ethan Kath to create his sea of noise. Set against a ghostly backdrop of the kid on the cover of Crystal Castles II, the duo kicked things off with an intense version of “Fainting Spells”. The flashing strobe lights and Alice Glass’ banshee-like wails bounced through every inch of the venue, making the audience and the band appear as only split-second flashes. From there, the show really got started.

With “Baptism”, things took a turn for a more melodic angle once the heavy synth riff came out of the speakers. That rhythm alone painted a lovely scene of magnificent screams and oddball body movements. But this wasn’t enough for Glass, though. She looked like she wanted to break through the audience/band barrier so she did, literally. About halfway through the number (and on nearly every other song afterwards), Glass jumped down on to the security barriers stopping for a brief second to look at the packed venue before diving into the front row. Despite the security team’s best efforts, she made her way through the first several rows of ravers before returning to the stage. She really threw everything she had into the performance, making up for the hour-long wait between Sinden and the main event. Come to think of it, she may be one of the very few singers who spent almost equal time in the crowd as she did onstage.

After blasting through several other songs, including singles “Crimewave”, “Celestica”, and “Courtship Dating”, the band left the stage after less than an hour of playing time. Now, most groups with only two albums under their belt could at least pull off an hour-long set. So that would be disappointing under even normal circumstances. However, playing less than an hour after giving all three opening acts almost an hour and 30 minutes of set time? That feels like a rip-off. While the opening acts weren’t bad at all, and were pretty impressive in some cases, the audience’s reaction made it clear that they were at the show to see Crystal Castles. Such a short show left a lot of people confused, with questions of “Is that it?” moving throughout the venue. Such a short performance really killed the joyous mood that had existed all night.

The HARD Summer show was ultimately a night of fun music and dancing that ending badly due to Crystal Castles’ short playtime. Maybe next time around they can cut one of the DJ openers so the fans can see what they came for: the headlining duo.

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on August 2nd, 2010.

After a series of festival appearances this year, St. Vincent’s last scheduled tour date was a free show at Central Park’s Summerstage. Backed by a bevy of talented musicians, her last show for the summer grabbed the packed crowd’s attention from the first song and didn’t let go until she left the stage an hour and a half later.

Though it’s been a little over a year since Actor came out, St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) and her backing band still showed the same enthusiasm for their newer material. Laced with aggression and precision, the group put on a stripped down show that put all eyes and ears on the music rather than any fancy lighting. From piano to saxophone to a small string section, the lush melodies of both her records came to life, only to be interrupted by Clark’s intricate and ferocious guitar work.

Before the headlining guitarist took the stage though, the audience was entertained by two decent opening acts that made the long wait (two and a half hours) a lot less painful. First up was Canadian songwriter Basia Bulat, who’s light-hearted but lyrically dark brand of folk rock made for a relaxing way to start the day. With the light breeze that was blowing through Central Park, many people sat and relaxed towards the back as she played. Bulat herself picked through a variety of instruments, including the guitar, ukulele, keyboard, and her trademark autoharp.

If Bulat was laid-back, then the tUnE-yArDs‘ set was the polar opposite. Group founder Merrill Garbus came onstage with face paint on and proceeded to create a rhythmic loop out of her yodeling. Bassist Nate Brenner supported her loops nicely with some cushioned riffs. It wasn’t all electronics though. After a few songs, a special guest band joined in the fun, filling in on electric guitar, percussion, horns. Garbus often played a distorted ukulele that expanded even more on the group’s experimental sound. The most distinctive part of the set though was the vocals. Garbus’ voice reached across the spectrum of music, bringing to mind the smooth pop of Dido to the R&B soul of Macy Gray. She hollered, heckled, and even imitated a car horn (her ode to New York). The performance was well-received by the crowd, who she had jumping along with her by the second song.

While the opening acts were good, it’s clear the crowd was there for St. Vincent. Unfortunately, some technical difficulties increased the wait another 20 minutes or so before the band took to the stage. Soon enough though, Ms. Clark and her band started their set with three songs from Actor, including the single “Actor Out of Work”. The result was sadly disappointing, though no fault to Clark. The sound mix was way off, putting the bass high enough for vibrations to travel through the barriers and Clark’s guitar too low to be heard clearly. These mechanical problems really put a damper on the first part of the set, sucking away the part most of the crowd was there to hear: Clark’s guitar. The effect was lessened afterward, probably due to some panicked fiddling on the part of the sound engineer but it was still enough to turn the end of “Just The Same But Brand New” into a muddled mess.

After the fifth song, however, the audio improved greatly with only minor grievances occurring. Perfect timing too as the band premiered one of the few tracks from St. Vincent’s second album that hadn’t been played live yet, “The Neighbors”. The track sounded spectacular live, with Clark’s fuzzed guitar tone meshing well against Daniel Hart’s mesmerizing violin. Though the entire support band played wonderfully, Hart was something of a standout. His violin went from beautifully brittle to darkly haunting throughout the show. He was the only one who managed to grab the crowd’s attention as readily as St. Vincent did.

Speaking of the leading lady, she proved once again that there’s no one who can switch between the fragile and fury so quickly. Every guitar solo turned Clark into a woman possessed, forcing out the distorted crunches she wanted by any means necessary, including punching the guitar. Yet by the next song, she was lighter than air as she moved over the frets to create séances of music. The audience readily changed along with her, from quietly staring during “The Bed” to punching the air and singing along to “Marrow”. When the last harmonic from St. Vincent and her backing band rang out during “The Party,” the crowd screamed in approval, the earlier problems forgotten.

The ending reaction from the crowd was the overall experience to take from this show. After stumbling badly out of the gate, St. Vincent recovered enough to put on a gratifying, intense showcase, no matter which song she played. Not a bad way to finish up her tour.

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on May 18th, 2010.

Ever since they released Fantasies last year, Metric has been on the road pretty consistently. It’s not hard to see why. With the energetic and blistering show they put on in New York City on Sunday, this band should be a live favorite for years to come.

In the midst of their 2010 North American trek supporting Fantasies, Metric brought everything a fan could ask for and more to Terminal 5 in Manhattan. Blazing music? Check. Seizure-inducing light show? Check. (Seriously, they must have stock in the strobe-light business.) Emily Haines? Double-check. The entire concert highlighted everything there is to love about Metric, and there’s certainly a lot to love.

Before the main event, opening act Bear in Heaven arrived but didn’t really feel like a good match to warm up the Metric crowd. Their electronic, experimental indie rock sounded more like noise than actual songs, especially since their shrill guitar was turned up way too loud. There were a few good parts of instrumentation here and there that had potential, but the overall experience was disappointing, especially after playing for 45 minutes.

Soon enough, though, Metric took the stage to the slow burner, “Twilight Galaxy”. With the stage covered in a dark blue light and the band members slowly taking their place at their instruments, it proved to be an odd yet appropriate opener. It let the group build up towards their faster-paced songs, but it wasn’t so slow that it killed the crowd’s energy. While Haines spent most of the first number behind her synthesizer, she really started moving during “Satellite Mind” and never stopped for the rest of the show. Throughout the entire concert, if she wasn’t stuck by a synth or guitar, she was all over the stage. Whether reaching out to the crowd, striking a superhero pose, or simply dancing to the music, she put as much energy into every song as the sold-out audience of passionate fans did.

Most of the setlist came from their latest record, with singles “Help, I’m Alive” and “Sick Muse” getting the biggest reaction from the crowd. It wasn’t all new stuff, though. The band threw in fan favorites from both Live It Out and Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? Out of these older tracks, the highlights included the intense “Empty” with savage guitar playing from James Shaw and the high-energy “Dead Disco”.

Every song in the main set felt like it worked perfectly after the previous one. There were no dramatic drops in tempo between numbers, but there was enough slowdown at times to give everyone a short rest. Haines’ tributes to the Beastie Boys (“Fight For Your Right”) and to fellow Canadian Neil Young (“Hey Hey My My”) both managed to fit alongside Metric’s tracks, especially the line “Rock and roll will never die” preceding the Beatles/Stones-inspired “Gimme Sympathy”.

If any songs fell short, they were “Gold Guns Girls” and “Monster Hospital”. While both were performed well, the former was sorely missing its backing shouts during the chorus and the latter wasn’t very memorable or a good pick to start the encore. Another problem was that Haines’ mic was mixed a little too low against the rest of the band, resulting in her being drowned out at certain points and rendering her comments in between songs a little difficult to understand.

Despite these small setbacks, the rest of the concert proved to be an energetic mess of fun. Both the band and the audience had the times of their lives. Ending with an acoustic sing-along of “Combat Baby”, the band members were all smiles as they took a bow and walked off the stage. It’s always great when a concert is as much fun for the band as it is for the fans. If Metric keeps up this level of performance, then the fun is just beginning.

Metric setlist:
Twilight Galaxy
Satellite Mind
Front Row
Help, I’m Alive
Collect Call
Gold Guns Girls
Gimme Sympathy
Sick Muse
Dead Disco
Stadium Love

Monster Hospital
Combat Baby