I don't know if you can make the signature, but the acoustic guitar in the above photo was autographed by Pelle Carlberg. I'm not sure whose guitar it actually was — more than one person used it at Cake Shop last night — but that sort of summed up Popfest for me, that someone would want Pelle Carlberg to sign their guitar.
This was the kickoff night for the NYC Popfest 20008, a celebration of all that is jangly, gentle, pleasant, generally polite, literate, charming… and yes, that dreaded signifier, twee. Indie-pop fans are obsessive by nature, as you have to make a point to listen to it, as you're not going to hear it any other way. And of course you'd want Pelle Carlberg, the highlight of last year's inaugural fest, to autograph your guitar. And of course he has really nice handwriting.
There were at least 30 or so people milling about outside Cake Shop when I showed up around 8:30, which had me immediately worried. Love is All were headlining the night, which meant the show was sold-out and sought-after, and for me Cake Shop is miserable when it's packed and you can't see anything unless you're within ten feet of the stage. That said, if you are that close, there is an intimacy with the place you can't really get at any other venue in the city. (Not counting semi-legal Todd P spots.) But when I descended into the underground performance space I found it sparsely populated — the people who were there for Popfest were inside. The people who were there for Love is All were outside killing time.
First up was Joe Brooker, who wasvone half of The Pines (the other half being Black Tamborine/Glo-Worm/chickfactor''s Pam Berry) and also The Foxgloves (with Stephen Troussé of Papercuts 'zine). Here he was, appropriately, The Pinefox, playing a mix of songs from his career, some of which he said he'd never played live before. His delicately arpeggiated stylings probably would've better suited a different venue, but it was a nice set.
Next was Brooklyn outfit In Interview. who take the same approach to jazz and disco as Joseph K. Not as scratchy, definitely more pop, but there was something discordant in the arrangements. Indie trumpeter for hire, Gary of Ladybug Transistor, was there with his horn on a few songs. At times it seemed like the bass player and guitarist were playing either different songs or in different keys or time signatures. I couldn't quite get my head around it enough to say I actually liked them. But I am intrigued enough to seek out their records… when they finally release something.
Unfortunately I had to leave four songs into Swedish duo Oh! Custer's set 'cause they were definitely the most enjoyable set of the night. Typifying that Scandinavian indie-pop sound (loads of reverb, '80s-style drum machines, super-catchy melodies), they also were totally charming with an understated sense of humor. "This song is about the public transportation system in my hometown," was the intro for one song. "It's called 'late.'"
MP3: Oh! Custer – Post
NYC Popfest continues tonight at Piano's — it's an early show, starts at 6pm. Then later tonight, Cats on Fire at Don Hills. Supposedly they'll be on before 1am. We'll see.