Saturday, July 24, 2010

Siren Fest - July 17, 2010

Without a doubt one of the highlights of the summer concert season in New York is the Village Voice Siren Fest.

Happening on nearly the exact same date every year (the third Saturday in July) this years festival was loaded with as many great performances as followers of this event have come to expect.

Show opening performers Apache Beat proved to be a very early
standout appearance.

For anyone not already familiar with Brooklyn, New York's Coney Island - there is a rich history here that certainly deserves to (at some point) be investigated.

Parking my car in the safety (if pricey, for me) of Coney Island's minor league Baseball Franchise - the Brooklyn Cyclones parking lot, I ambled down Surf Avenue towards the music festival's two stages.

The world famous and most picturesque original Nathan's hotdog stand was doing is usual brisk business.

The corner of Surf and Stillwell , entry to the first festival stage.

With stagemap and press / photo access squared away, it was over to the Stillwell Stage to hear up and coming band Apache Beat.

The first thing you notice about this band is their stylish, charismatic and attractive lead singer Ilirjana Alushaj.

She had to photo pit all a flutter (with their shutters) while the rest of the band were more than content to drive through a set of unique rhythmic songs.

In particular, the bands drummer/percussionist seemed to be constantly busy, laying out polyrhythms throughout most of their material.

Ilirjana (pronounced Ill-E-Ana) was a most captivating visual magnet, as she rocked out in the fanciest (and best) dress of the event, and did it all barefoot too - which of course completely skewered the imagery (since you'd expect some equally stylish shoes to go with that dress).

Her vocal presentation is more or less out of the wailing banshee style school - which fits perfectly with this band.

Give them a listen.

The band is offering up a free MP3 from their soon to be released album.

And you can listen to more of their music here:

An opportunity presented itself to have a quick chat
and photo with Ilirjana later on.

Quickly scurrying over to the other (Main) stage (a task that would be repeated throughout the day) I arrived just in time to catch another band on my "must see" list - The Screaming Females

The anticipation was worth the wait as the band featured many songs from their impending fourth album release, titled “Castle Talk.” To be released through Don Giovanni records on September 14, the tracks appear positioned to match and possibly even surpass the quality shown on their previous album “Power Move.” On that record, the single "I Do" gave us an anthemic feel by way of a descending chord progression. While the bass and drums throttled forward like a 1980's SST label punk band, guitars chunked over top until the inevitable sinewy guitar solo.

The newer songs here took that same formula but sped everything up a bit. With vocals alternating between a sing and a scream, but still finding the room for well placed background aaaahhhs. Still, the lead guitar solo’s jumped out at you, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to compare this band to a legendary act like Dinosaur Jr. More angular and a tad frantic, what’s clear is the equal interplay of a power trio that thinks like a band. Marissa Paternoster is the flashy focus (and rightly so), however one can sense the band dynamic clearly at work here.

Check out the amazing shredding guitar work Marissa displays here in this clip:

Here you get the total band effect, as they lay down a slinky groove for Marissa to unleash over:

Following The Screaming Females on the Main stage were the much ballyhooed Surfer Blood

When I first heard their album earlier this year (amid a torrent of well placed press and hype) I wasn't all that blown away. Frankly, I had heard all this before and didn't think they were particularly breaking any new ground. However, their live show here on this day was most impressive, and has motivated me to take a second look (and listen).

Nicely done.

The very popular bring-a-drum-into-the-crowd move!

Following Surfer Blood on the Main Stage was a band out of San Diego, California called
Night Marchers

I was previously unfamiliar with their music, but could see why they garnered this more featured placement at the Festival.

They are a tightly wound unit, playing that sneering style California punk rock that brought to mind Social Distortion (a band that pioneered this sound).

However, I could only stay for part of their set as I had to rush over to the Stillwell Stage and catch a band I'd been wanting to see for a while now - Earl Greyhound

Blending sprawling song structures (and chops) of prog rockers with a decidedly 1960's hippie style, they present a live show that is both unique and entertaining.

These are highly sophisticated muscians who have developed a sound (and image) forged on a blueprint few other bands could pull off.

Portrait of the "wide stance" bass player.

Tribal facepaint instead of traditional makeup.

Heavy riffs frame out intricate rhythms, with vocals often sung in tandem.

Unapologetic, flamboyant, prog rock and roll. Blistering guitar solos, muscular drumming and a tribal warlord on bass -- it's Earl Greyhound

If you like that sort of things, you'll love their album.

Back up onto the boardwalk, heading over to the main stage again.

On the way I ran into this:

How could I pass up one of these?

Hitting the seriously primetime moments of the day now, it was time for

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Having become casually friendly with various members of the band over the last few years, I remain impressed with their ability to not only hold on to the popularity they've already achieved, but their overall continued steady improvement as well.

Check out this live performance of their single "Say No To Love"

With an impeccable sounding debut album and steady touring schedule all contributing to this band's rise, it should be no surprise to anyone at this point, why this band is presently positioned where they are.

Songs like "Teenager In Love" (presented here live) perfectly illustrate the pop melodies in frontman Kip Berman's songwriting.

Peggy is a front and center star. Image, voice, personality and essential keyboard hooks.
The complete package.

What I find most impressive about TPOBPAH is how Kip & Co. continue to write one hooky pop tune after another.

Listen to their brand new song "Heart In Your Heartbreak"

Hand scrawled setlists make the best keepsakes

With a few minutes to kill before the next act, I decided to soak in some of the local ambiance that can only be Coney Island on a hot summer Saturday

The Parachute Drop Tower (and actual ride from 1941-1968!) looms majestically over everything. It has been called the "Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn."

Yes, I just had to stop and gawk at the spectacle that can only be Shoot The Freak

Breaktime over, it was back to the Main Stage for

Ted Leo and The Pharmacists

Ted Leo is a longtime veteran of the local rock music scene, gaining accolades far and wide for his band's punk rock sensibilties.

The tunes are rip-fast, the lyrics quick and witty.

Listen in here:

Bolting from the Ted Leo show across the boardwalk (one more time) I wanted to make sure to catch Cymbals Eat Guitars over on Stillwell Stage.

Having already experienced multiple CEG shows over the past year, I was looking foward to seeing what they might be presenting today.

The band has an appealing sound that incorporates at times, frantic guitar strumming, impassioned vocals, a variety of blended keyboards - moving from quiet passages to all out blustery jams - all within the same song. They have no apparent inhibitions about incorporating alternately noisy and/or atmospheric passages within their mostly traditional song structures.

Focused on the songwriting, vocals and guitar of frontman Joseph Ferocious, the band opened with a number of brand new songs and told the crowd they were a test audience. I'm happy to report the tunes sounded excellent and were very well received.

Listen in to their clean, impassioned sound.

While two guys named Matt locked down the rhythm section via bass and drums, special mention goes to keyboardist Brian Hamilton, who adds rich textures and clean piano lines to the overall sonic stew. It's quite appealing.

With the festival nearing it's conclusion, I made one last traipse across the boardwalk, to possibly catch a bit of hometown faves Matt & Kim. However, the crowd was beginning to get stifling and a bit unruly (yes, even in the photo area) and after nervously agressive security forces pushed me into the girl in front of me to "maintain the barricades" I knew it was time to go.

Back up on the boardwalk, the night was closing in and mood appeared to be changing somewhat.

The rides looked magnificent, however - up against the setting sun.

Clean modern (and safe) "parachute drop" juxtaposed against the original.

The crowd and the rides blend together as dusk approaches.

I couldn't pass up an opportunity to capture this, as the Dean Wareham/Luna song ran through my head.

Girlie Freak Show - everything you could ever want, all rolled into one.

Siren Fest - Wouldn't miss it for anything.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Stephen Warwick live at Bowery Electric

The Bowery Electric in New York City has got this cool vibe. Some say the venue has taken the spirit of the legendary CBGB's into it's walls. Well, it's literally a block or so away from where that original music hall resides (which in a rather surreal twist of fate is now a fancy clothing store).

So when Stephen Warwick told me he'd be performing there with his magical mystery shifting band The Secondhand Stories, on Friday July 9, I blew off all other events (do you hear me Grizzly Panda Riot Bear In Heaven?) to catch my first ever SW show.

I had been digitally enjoying his debut album "Talking Machine" for a while now. Ever since getting my hands on a just minted advance copy back in the latter part of last year. Being most impressed with Mr. Warwick's songwriting and sound construction abilities, I wrote a detailed review of that record. You can find a link to that review at the end of this feature.

However, this was a live show, so it was with a bit of curiosity and anticipation to discover how the songs would hold up under this less forgiving, more honest presentation.

Mr. Warwick's show was part of the DJ & Host Nicole Atkins Presents series at Bowery Electric. I am no stranger to Ms Atkins or her music, and have written more than a few reviews of her own live performances.

Opening the show with the first track off his album, "Golden" unfolds as an introspective acoustic guitar and harmonica number. Stephen is accompanied by a drummer and keyboardist, initially. "I have never had a way with words. I have never been a patriarch," he sings. Throughout this melancholy but ultimately uplifting musical journey, there is a warmth and spaciousness with each harmonica flourish. The lyrical conclusion is something of a fantasy and a dream."Maybe one day I'll get stolen and buried in the sea - and someone will see that it is me," he sings.

With Keyboardist/horn player, drummer and guitar

In keeping with the album sequence, next up was the bouncy "Circus By The Sea." A quicker rhythm brought to life by Mr. Warwick and his sidemen, the lyrics delve into a story about "a million eyes that try to guess the secrets that you keep," and how the waves "evaporate like mistakes that we have made." As the story progresses over a lifetime, a point is ultimately reached where "you see the empty shell of what was make believe inside," and how "the years went by as your sprits die, to a view of a brothel in New York." I've always found these lyrics to be mysterious and unique, underscoring a self-awareness and intelligence.

Still keeping with the album order, next up was the title track "Talking Machine"

"This time its the only thing you've ever heard before," is the hooky refrain. The chorus goes "words like birds, from the talking machine," which contain "fluttering notes and bended strings." Here in the live environment, shaker percussion enhance the rhythm, with rich, warm organ tones (reminicent of Crowded House and their most recognizable song "Don't Dream It's Over") providing sonic color.

Trumpeters appear as the artist seemingly fades into a gazey dream

Next up was the song "Unmade Bed," which certainly retained it's downhome, front-porch, shufflin' feel of a good-timey country atmosphere so apparent on the album. However, in this stripped down live setting, a single trumpeter emerged as a more dominant sound enhancement. With a story about a "sideshow beauty queen" now "drinking the barrels dry" culminating with the thought that "on the day your are (finally) dead - even then you'll keep an unmade bed." One can only wonder who exactly inspired this one.

Working his way through the album, Stephen played pretty much all of it - including this song here, which is titled on that disc as "Welcome Alive."

For this live presentation, Stephens vocal phrasing reminded me a bit of Steve Forbert (when that particular artist first broke onto the scene, three decades ago). That said, you can't help but appreciate the enthusiasm of this performance. It's also impressive how full the sound can be with only an organ, drums and acoustic guitar. Special mention certainly has to go to the keyboardist who played all these bass notes with his left hand (The Doors Ray Manzarek would be proud). Lyrically this song touches on how "you were raised on rock and roll and lemonade," and how "we come alive like devils in the street." Again, it's rock music with a down home, folksy flavor.

As I stated in my initial review of the album over a half a year ago, my favorite song on the record was (and still is) the heartbreakingly romantic "Keep On." I had discovered it was also Nicole Atkins favorite song on it as well.

In fact, the lovely Nicole would join Stephen on stage to perform it on this evening.

Nicole Atkins with Stephen Warwick

Listen here and tell me if you don't agree that this is a brilliant and beautiful song:

Nicole and Stephen in soft focus

Here in the live setting, Stephen introduces this one with just his acoustic guitar. Nicole joins in soon enough singing in tandem, while the trumpet plays that strong melody line. The song touches an emotional place that focuses on everything beautiful and sad. Together they sing Mr. Warwick's brilliant lyrics "though I never loved you, that doesn't mean that I can't love the way - the way that we danced in the parlor." With a chorus that goes "Keep on, keep on - the radio plays, the static fades and the volume wades, and I can't remember the way that it goes, singing songs from a decade ago". The emotional peak is struck with the lyrical sentiment "and I try to find the words that will make you feel like I haven't let you down. They're the same exact words from the song on the station that I can't remember right now."

A masterful piece of songwriting, and on this night, a most unique presentation of it.

One artist appreciating another's individual work

There is nothing more personal than a hand-scrawled set list

Seek out the music on "Talking Machine"

You'll be richer for the experience.

Essential links:

My Full Album Review of Talking Machine here:

To get the latest news on Stephen and his music: