Brooklyn’s been a mega-force in music for so many years now it’s hard to remember when it was ‘that outer borough’. In 2010 L Magazine started the Northside Festival in Williamsburg & Brooklyn, to celebrate acts from the area and bring in acts to the area. It’s more-or-less beefed up every year since then, and though it still had to live in the shadow of the prior weekend’s Governors Ball on nearby Randall’s Island (QRO recap), the festival brought the sounds to the north side of Brooklyn, Thursday to Sunday, June 12th to 15th:
In the years I’ve done Northside, Sunday had a tendency to be the weakest link of the lineups, usually not having much of anything in the afternoons. I guess because it’s wrap-up time, half the shows I end up catching are later in the day. This year seems to have picked up quite a bit, however, and the lineups have been keeping decent despite it being the final hurrah of the festival.
I admit that having access to early shows is also a nice way to catch acts that tend to get mobbed in the evening.
Paper Garden Records showcase @ Spike Hill – Donald Lee
Some things don’t change: visiting Spike Hill (QRO venue review), and getting there right on time for sound check is one of them.
What better way to celebrate Father’s Day than to check out Yellerkin? Guitarist Adrian Galvin knows that well; his dad was cheering on the sidelines in a way that made me think of a dad looking at his son’s first recital; not the first time for them I’m sure, but still something I had to at least look at and find the right way to start Northside’s final day.
Yellerkin itself is a team of two-three members who combine electronic with a bit of a bluegrass elements. It’s a bit ethereal with dance-y beats, including a sort of emotional rawness in these dreamy lyrics that aren’t afraid to tell things like they are. Like a lot of what I’ve been seeing at Northside, they combined a lot of rhythms into a melting pot easy to listen to, but it still made me catch a smile when I caught a vulgar word the same way you feel about finding a marshmallow in your spoonful of cereal.
I may also suffer from being fascinated at the drummer’s maraca-drumstick multi-tool.
Although the folks at QRO are familiar with his work (QRO album review), my first experience with ARMS’ style of music is going to echo their impression: the jazzy, summery, style of fun to listen to, and the songs carry a sort of style to the way Todd Goldstein speaks it; making it seem like this evolution of beat poetry with a distinctly enjoyable bass line.
Northside showcase @ McCarren Park – Ted Chase
The biggest show at Northside ’14 was CHVRCHES, who played the second free show at McCarren Park for the festival. Obviously tamer than Saturday’s Thee Oh Sees, but also more artistic (even if the lights on their backdrop sign couldn’t be seen in the summer sun…). People tend to focus on singer Lauren Mayberry, but live keyboardists Martin Doherty and Iain Cook are particularly active, whether Cook getting out from behind his massive keyboard contraption to rock the bass, or Doherty jumping around every second his hands aren’t at his own set of keys.
Hearts Bleed Radio & Noise Love showcase @ Bar Matchless – Donald Lee
As I mentioned before, Hearts Bleed had a pretty good lineup and they managed to do it again. Compelled by curiosity (or, given the way this weekend was going, perhaps drawn by the potential of seeing Clouder members again), I headed back to Matchless (QRO venue review) through a bar filled with eyes either on the World Cup or the stage so I could get my second matching stamp.
The Living Kills
The Living Kills have a psychedelic jam mentality that makes me think of ‘60s garage. The guitar work and organ add a dance-happy speed and… I want to say “creepiness” to the band’s dynamic. Combined, they make vocalist Merrill Sherman’s inviting storyteller lyrics more of an experience akin to the soundtrack of an old horror film, and not in a campy ‘Creature Feature’ kind of way.
I’ve caught Crazy Pills more than once, one time when it was an all-woman group (QRO photos) and afterwards when the two left and were replaced (QRO photos) by the drummer from Clouder and the lead singer from Pow Wow! (whose band leader Tha Kitten is also a part of – yes, her real name is listed several places, but I’m trying to keep some sort of tradition here…), and I think I may have even seen the previous members visit for this show.
Crazy Pills has seen something of a change since their first time I caught them, adopting sounds that focus on taking advantage of Ms. Kitten’s vocal range and musical range that puts less emphasis on the jangle and more on finding different things that stick. In the process, you have pills that sound less Crazy, but are more effective at their current dosage. It’s not to say that the music still isn’t happy and wild; it still is, and they have a few pieces that have great replay value from catchy hooks and a sonorous harmony (I’m looking at you, “They Wait”).
I feel like I’m writing old information (and to confess, part of these notes came from last year’s show where they highlighted this change in gears – QRO recap), but it still retains what I saw before: melodies that can be fun or serious, but always catchy (in this case, it was more of the former than the last time). To emphasize the point, a final song was done in honor of Father’s Day that reminded us that they were still capable of playing anthemistic tunes when they desire.
White Irish showcase @ Cameo Gallery – Donald Lee
“He’s legit,” one of the listeners told me. She wasn’t the only one, as everyone fixated, took photos, and cheered on the man in dreads who messed with the array of machinery on his table like a mad Rastafarian scientist.
Experimental and novel, Ludwig Persik combined dance rhythms with a mixture of pop and a sort of performance art style to it. As electronic as his equipment was, his backing band filled in gaps that took it beyond the traditions of any genre and added to its artfulness; sitting in poses, or eating spoonfuls of air out of bowls. I am reminded of David Byrne in that way, for his vocals (definitely not for his presentation, flashy though it felt).
If there was a band that should be making soundtracks for films, it’s Incan Abraham. Their music, an ambient mixture of electronic effects, sweeping drum work, and guitar work, plays like background characters of a landscape between the twin vocals that reverberate against each other throughout the performance. Somewhere between progressive and ambient and worldly music, it’s unearthly – or perhaps I should say ‘primordial’ – when they amalgamate their musical components.
Candy Apple Red showcase @ Trash Bar – Donald Lee
I came back to the Trash Bar because Candy Apple Red was putting up a punk show. After three nights of listening to all sorts of music, it felt like this was the best way to feel like I completed Northside the right way. Plus, some quick trips to Bandcamp were promising. To be honest, I was exhausted and three days of shooting on my knees had made it worse, so I hoped that this would be the cure for what ails me.
The sound system was still recovering from the rain two days ago, but it still didn’t stop people from coming in and enjoying people blare their emotions into their instruments and the stage. Sadly, I missed the opener Riotfox, but more sadly, by the time you read this you will probably not hear about the free show Punk Island playing in Staten Island (although I believe TimeOut mentioned it and probably has a larger presence, I still wanted to give props where props was due).
Bound & Buried
I was treated to seeing Bound & Buried screaming into action when I came in. Their sound takes an approach that had a touch of surf, a bit of honky-tonk, and an overall classic garage sound to it that only seemed to work that much more in the atmosphere of the Trash Bar. There was something cathartic about watching a man wear a mic like a necktie, and I was seeing it here. Yes, I loved it.
First off, I should congratulate any band that has a name as awesome as that (Incan Abraham is a close second though). The last time I heard of a band with a name as cool as Vampirates was when I was trying to catch Raccoon Fighter at last year’s Northside (is it a guy who beats up masked mammals? A D&D character used by a furry? A comparison of omnivore versus plane?). Unlike Raccoon Fighter, I actually caught these guys.
Just back from a trip through Europe so recently that they had no merch, the three-man team were hardcore prog-punk, and moving three times the speed of mortal men. I hadn’t seen anything with this kind of clear-cut speed since I followed Bangladeafy a few years back, and they aren’t even similar in style. It’s noisy, sure, but incisively accurate noise, like that scene in UHF when Weird Al Rambo fires his machine gun everywhere and hits everyone at once.
“I’m sorry to say I missed CHVRCHES,” Will Romeo said to the laughter of the crowd, his deep calm almost a surprise when you hear the rumbling thunder he belts out between songs. Gameday Regulars’ music reaches out with anthems, aggressive guitars, and an ability to write hooks that are easy to fall prey to. The musical style takes an influence from Springsteen and other garage bands that took a page from that style, along with a bit of a power-pop sensibility just to rein everything in the right way. The overall mix leads to music that is very hard to get tired of; if anything, this is the sort of music I think I needed just to get myself going again after these long three days.
Last but not least of the scene was Midnight Foolishness. Well-known in the underground scene, they had the difficulty of being the last in a show on a Sunday evening when everyone was getting ready to call it a night. Soundcheck difficulties made it even worse, and you could tell there was nervousness from the developments, but it still didn’t stop people from dancing.
Midnight Foolishness takes an approach to their sound that sounds like it came from a ‘00s era style of punk sound, with a bit of that adolescent emo edge to it, but without the push for instant hooks. It’s got an ironic humor to it in that way.
White Irish showcase @ Cameo Gallery – Ted Chase
Singer/guitarist Luke Rathborne joked with those in the crowd at Cameo (QRO venue review), who were standing/sitting not up next to the stage in the small space, that he would have also been where they were. “Better than Glasslands…” (QRO venue review)
Rathborne sounded vaguely alt-country/garage, more fun than inspired, but were definitely engaging. Luke had a funny story about Sasquatch! Festival, that they’d recently been at, where a band asked him for every drug under the sun…
When the Northside schedule was announced, one band/show stood out by a mile for your correspondent: White Rabbits at Cameo. QRO has been a fan of White Rabbits since 2007 (QRO live review) – when Vampire Weekend opened for them – and has followed them through their stylistic changes. Each change has been regrettable in that they did their old style so well, but then they were able to pull off their new, moving from dancehall to auteurs. And it had been a while since the Rabbits played, thanks to singer/guitarists Steve Patterson and Greg Roberts moving to Austin (though bassist Alex Evan is still in Brooklyn – QRO interview with Patterson & Evan) – they’d both seemingly grown their hair long as well.
That’s what makes it so tough to talk about the set that followed. There were no drummers – from a band where percussion out of Matt Clark (QRO interview) and Jamie Levinson is so key. It was just the three of them – and they were sitting down. It was utterly smoky in Cameo (thus the flash photos, sorry…), and could barely see them. And couldn’t recognize a single song.
Probably a sort of ‘remix’ of their originals, they didn’t sound bad, and even worked after a fashion, but this was not the White Rabbits that you were looking for. They also record some old- and new-style house sounds, and some other stuff, but just couldn’t get over it all. Perhaps the show should have been billed as a new band, “with members of White Rabbits.” There was a sort of disco-cool, but was just utterly unprepared for this.
Maybe this was just a test-out for the new set-up & sound, but kind of a poor excuse. It might be a hell of a lot easier for a band to not have/find a drummer and all of his stuff, but that doesn’t mean one should – there’s a reason bands have drummers. And despite what everyone these days is doing, you can’t turn everything into synths.
Unfortunately for the first time, I’m missing the old White Rabbits.
-For some reason there was no cell phone service at McCarren Park, but there was Wi-Fi (and free beer backstage).
-When did Cameo take over the rest of Lovin’ Cup?
-Let’s Be Loveless (QRO photos) @ Bar Matchless, 3:30 PM – 4:15 PM
-Dinowalrus (QRO album review) @ Muchmore’s, 3:45 PM – 4:30 PM
-Shark? (QRO photos) @ The Silent Barn, 5:20 PM – 6:00 PM