First-ever shows are always a risky proposition. Everyone’s nervous & new, and no matter how much one practice or soundchecks, nothing quite replicates playing in front of a live crowd. And if there’s high anticipation, then there are high expectations. This was something the Guggenheim Museum faced in August with the first of its monthly ‘It Came From Brooklyn’ series of concerts (held in celebration of the famed museum’s fiftieth anniversary), and something Paul Banks & co. faced on Friday, September 25th, in the first-ever Julian Plenti show – which was also the second-ever ‘It Came From Brooklyn’ show.
Compared to the second event, the inaugural show at the Guggenheim on August 14th (QRO review) can now be seen as a bit of a trial run. The headliners then, The Walkmen (QRO photos), while more than established, aren’t huge, and play New York a lot – including two days later (QRO photos), for free, at Central Park SummerStage (QRO venue review), opening for Dinosaur Jr. (QRO review). The openers then, High Places (QRO photos), didn’t quite fit with The Walkmen, and even the M.C. & other speakers were a little off.
But all of that improved at the September showcase. First and foremost, this was a highly anticipated event, the first show ever of Julian Plenti, the solo side-project of Paul Banks, the lead singer of Interpol. Plenti/Banks is/are coming back to New York in November, but the venues are nowhere near as classy (not many are…), and those shows ain’t the first. And they’re taking with them their openers from Guggenheim, I’m In You (QRO photos), a couple of whom also served in Banks’ backing band. Even the M.C. took a decided step up from last month’s guy-who-guest-spotted-on-Michael & Michael Have Issues, now with comedian/writer/landlord on Flight of the Conchords (QRO live review), Eugene Mirman.
Something else that took a step up was the sound & lighting at Guggenheim, though the lengthy soundcheck did cause the doors to open rather late – and a long line to form outside. But that was the anticipation for Julian Plenti. Interpol opened a lot of eyes in the beginning of this decade with Turn On the Bright Lights, one of the Lower East Side/Brooklyn bands that brought indie-rock back to mainstream attention, like The Strokes. Also like The Strokes, Interpol’s output dimmed after that, with their last LP, major label debut Our Love To Admire (QRO review), disappointing a lot of fans. And still like The Strokes, Interpol kind of disappeared after that. Now singer Paul Banks has put out a solo release (yet still like The Strokes…), back on Interpol’s original indie label, Matador (Yo La Tengo, Pavement), as ‘Julian Plenti’, …Is Skyscraper (QRO review). While not immediately overwhelming, Skyscraper is certainly a strong solo side-project release, and certainly more than enough to well-whet appetites.
For his first show ‘as’ Julian Plenti, Banks assembled a backing band, consisting of Damian Paris of The Giraffes on guitar (wearing a t-shirt of the David Lee Roth ‘Skyscraper’ tour…), Nick Stumpf of French Kicks (QRO album review) on drums, and I’m In You’s Dmitry Ishenko on bass. He also had a string sections, which included I’m In You’s Erica Dicker on violin. At the start, Banks was still fairly nervous for his first-ever solo + backing band show – the massive bank of photographers, all sitting or kneeling right in front of him probably didn’t help (what maybe did help was one very attractive, rather drunk girl in a short dress sitting amongst those photographers, in love with Banks…). But the paparazzi thinned out as the show went on (the stage set-up at Guggenheim – QRO venue review – with the stage in front of the first ramp, lets one watch or shoot from behind the band, a very nice plus, even if one couldn’t shoot from higher levels, thanks to the Kandinsky exhibit on display), and Banks’ nerves actually rather complemented …Skyscraper material.
Plenti & co. played all the songs from the record save one ("Games For Days") in the set list (QRO photo). They started with some of the strongest, most memorable pieces, like "Unwind", "Girl On the Sporting News", "Fun That We Have" and "No Chance Survival", though still saved a few for nearer the end. That did make the set dip a bit in the middle, after "Survival", but was more than picked up near the end by the album’s clearly strongest song, "Only If You Run". There being only one Julian Plenti album, there were naturally only so many Plenti songs they all could do, and no, they didn’t do any Interpol (probably a good thing for the show; definitely a good thing for Banks, to separate the two acts), but included two covers, "A Horse With No Name" by America (and on your parents’ jukebox…), and closer "Into the White" by The Pixies (their best-ever b-side).
Julian Plenti playing "Only If You Run" live at Guggenheim in New York, NY on September 25th, 2009:
M.C. Eugene Mirman, just off of his multi-day Comedy Festival in Brooklyn, served well (though did introduce Julian Plenti a bit too early, but admitted to it), doing stand-up material (like how God is a child with Asperger’s Syndrome), funny Father’s Day cards (many of which seemed to be Robin Williams-related…), and showing a hilarious interview/screen test for a bouncer (which had the tough, bald English guy saying things like, "Do you think The Last Starfighter could really happen?…"). After I’m In You, there was also a kind of confusing reading of Jane Bowles by Rivka Galchen, and Hampton Fancher telling stories about meeting Henry Miller, rather than doing a reading of him (most of the stories seemed to be more about various girls that the senior citizen had dated, back in the day – hopefully Ms. Galchen didn’t get hit on…). And ‘It Came From Brooklyn’ producer Sam Brumbaugh first opened the evening, though he really could have used more energy & excitement in his introduction (QRO photos of all speakers).
But Brumbaugh was probably worn out by all the work that he’d done that day to set up & improve Guggenheim for its second show (plus anyone who knew him who was there probably bugged him for info about the reunion by his friends Pavement – QRO album review – happening, oh, a year from now…). From the M.C. & opener to the added new video screen (which Plenti nicely used, especially during "Skyscraper", though at one point the computer program projecting onto it went down, and so the Windows screen came up – but maybe people thought that was part of the show…), the setting had improved – even the Kandinsky showing on the upper levels was a stronger showcase than last month’s. But the evening was about Julian Plenti, and he/they delivered (the only complaint from the crowd seemed to be about Banks’ new short haircut…). Now here’s hoping he/they can keep that up & maybe even improve in their next night.