Wash, Rinse, Repeat: Gruff Rhys | Knitting Factory | 5.18.2011

Gruff Rhys has a very distinctive “thankyouverymuch” Maybe not as classic as Peter Frampton’s, but it’s got its own charm, slowly slurring out the “thhhhhh” and then speeding through the “ankyouverymuch” like it was one syllable. It makes me smile every time he says it (which is after every song). Charming, self effacing, funny and slightly unintelligible…Gruff Rhys in a nutshell.

This was the first night of Gruff’s North American tour that will find him back in NYC in a month or so at Mercury Lounge on June 15. “This is the first night of our American tour. “It should be interesting to compare and contrast,” he mused. ” No vacant stares last night, though the smell of weed permeated Knitting Factory the second Gruff took the stage.

For previous tours the shaggy Super Furry Animals lead singer has usually truly played solo, with only a tableful of junkshop keyboards, turntables, metronomes as backing. For this tour, in support of his new album Hotel Shampoo, he brought along Gwynedd surf rock combo Y Niwl (“The Fog”) for backing and as openers. (They were great.) Which meant a louder show, though no less meandering or funny. Rhys is a showman at heart.

There were signs explaining the title “Conservation Conversation”; he taught the audience the first line of Hotel Shampoo closer “Rubble Rubble” so we’d recognize it and clap when it started, as “nobody makes it to the end of albums.” (Not true, Gruff!) He also indulged in his love of key changes with “Ni Yw Y Byd” which contains six of them. I dont’ quite love them as much as he does.

The set was a little front-loaded with hits: we got “Shark Ridden Waters,” “Candylion,” and “Sensations in the Dark” right off the bat, leaving the rest of the 90+ minute set with lesser-known, more mellow material. Though, really, there aren’t a lot of casual Gruff Rhys fans and the 100 or so who made it out in the rainy rain stayed the whole set and demanded an encore.

“We only have time for one more,” Gruff informed the disappointed audience (“THREE MORE!”). “It’s a ballad and it’s 15 minutes long.” At that point he donned a airline emergency vest and launched into “Skylon!,” the epic and awesome closing track from Candylion which tells a tale of love and terror at 20,000 feet. It’s not one second too long.

MP3: Gruff Rhys – Skylon! (buy it)

The best song on new album Hotel Shampoo is most certainly “Shark Ridden Waters,” which is based almost entirely around samples from “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” by obscure ’60s pop group The Cyrkle. It’s one of those tracks — like The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” or Jens Lekman’s “Black Cab” — where wholesale appropriation in the hands of someone clever and creative results in something strikingly original.

MP3: Gruff Rhys – Shark Ridden Waters (Buy it)
MP3: The Cyrkle – It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (Buy It)

Gruff returns to NYC on June 15 at Mercury Lounge, with Y Niwl, beards and blank stares. Sad to report they did not have the “Honey All Over” mugs at the merch table. (He also didn’t play that song either!) All dates on his North American tour are below.

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Quasi + Crystal Stilts + Sic Alps + Soft Circle + Marnie Stern + Jeff Lewis | Knitting Factory | 12.20.2008



Wow, one of the best single-show line-ups of the year currated by and staring Quasi, that had us ping-ponging between two floors so there was no downtime. (Though there was some, in my opinion, unecessary overlapping going on which was slightly annoying.) The last time I saw Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss was at NorthSix five years ago and I'd forgotton how good they are. This was also my first time seeing them as a trio (Joanna Bolme, who like Weiss, is also a Jick). Coomes spent a lot of time on guitar instead of keyboards which clearly he enjoys. And it's always a pleasure watching Weiss play drums.

Perhaps following Quasi's lead, Sic Alps made their debut as a trio last night, adding former tour-mate and fellow San Franciscan Ty Segall on drums. Segall is a great performer in his own right, and anyone who's heard his great debut from this year knows he's a perfect addition to Sic Alps' sludgy, swampy garage rock. The band flew in from San Francisco just for this show and left behind The Monolith — their towering Jenga-like stack vintage equipment that is such a visual presense at their shows. But with Segall on drums, it freed up Matt Hartman to crank out all sorts of weird noises on his guitar and occasionally sing. Mike Donovan still scrunches up his face when he sings, as if someone is resetting his shoulder. For my money, it was the set of the night.

An aside about the Monolith for you Sic Alps fans: Talking to Hartman after the show, he said that with Segall on drums in the space that the Monolith would normally be, it may now morph into more of a Wall. Sounds like they're gonna need a bigger van.

Crystal Stilts' set in the Tap Room was marred by not-so-great sound and not having keyboardist Kyle Forester with them this time but it was still a good set. I've written about them enough this year so I won't bore you with more, but I did get video of a new song, the one that was called "poopface" on their setlist at Le Poisson Rouge. It's below.

Somehow, this was my first time seeing blog-adored guitar-slinger Marnie Stern, who has been praised upon high by all the heavyweights. While I appreciate her energy, and it's fun to watch a cute girl doing Steve Vai style hammer-on guitar flourishes, she is just not my thing. 

Neither was Soft Circle, which is ex Lightning Bolt and Black Dice drummer Hisham Akira Bharoocha. Like Andrew Bird, Liam Finn, Feist and others, Bharoocha uses loop pedals to be a one-man-band, building his creations from the bassline up… but he focuses on grooves, not so much songs. Which I think was my problem. He does it very well, but the songs don't really go anywhere, they just get bigger until he decides to stop.

Wearing a ratty Watchmen t-shirt, Jeff "Jeffrey" Lewis opened the night with his charming, funny, thoughtful, absurdist folk and spoken word. He's a real charmer if you ask me, and we got a couple "movies," both of which were works in progress: "Low Budget Detective Flick" and "The Complete History of Communism in Korea."

This was also my farewell to the current Leonard St. location of the Knitting Factory, which will close on New Years and reopen in February in Williamsburg in the former Luna Lounge space. The Leonard St locale opened just before I moved here in '95 and I've seen a lot of amazing shows there over the years: Wedding Present, The Fall, Jonathan Richman, The Chameleons… the list goes on. I hope they'll transform the Luna space into somewhere more pleasant to see a show. See ya in February.

There are a few more photos up on Flickr. Here are those videos:

Sic Alps – Message from the Law

Crystal Stilts – Untitled new song

Slaraffenland | Knitting Factory | 5.28.2008

Img_1546"Ok, now you try!" Slaraffenland were teaching the audience how to pronounce their name, which is Danish for "the land of milk and honey." It’s actually a little easier than it looks: "slah-rah-fen-land," with the emphasis on the second syllable.

Slaraffenland are probably just as easy to enjoy as they are to pronounce. Which is to say imposing until you get the hang of it. Very little of their music follows pop conventions, but there is melody and beauty if you stop waiting for the chorus and just let the music wash over you.

Live, Slaraffenland are pretty fascinating to watch, as all the members sing and play at least two instruments… often within the same song. The guitarist played the oboe; the percussionist played a variety of woodwinds; the bassist also played flute; and the keyboardist / sampler was often seen with a trombone. I’m sure the drummer also was a multi-instrumentalist but he was absent at Knitting Factory — a new father, he had to leave the tour early for daddy duty.

Losing your drummer might seem like a dealbreaker to most groups but Slaraffenland didn’t seem to phased by it. There is a lot of live sampling going on in their show — many songs started with everyone playing horns which would become a backing loop — so live percussion blended with canned bits, and for a couple songs they were aided by tourmates Efterklang’s drummer.

While not quite sold out, Knitting Factory was full with an enthusiastic and boisterous crowd. Slaraffenland seemed psyched too, but in that Danish way that makes exclamations like "we love you!" (which I’m sure was genuine) sound like maybe they’re being ironic.

MP3: Slarrafenland – Polaroids

This was actually a Danish double-header with similarly-minded, though larger in numbers, Efterklang, which they dubbed the Danish Dynamite Tour. I must admit they were a little too affected for my tastes, both musically (a lot more precious and grandiose) and visually (they band wore turn-of-the-century garb, including those weird  golf/riding pants that are baggy at the thigh and tight through the calf).

There are still a few dates left on the Danish Dynamite Tour, worth checking out if it come near you:

May 29 TT the Bears | Boston, Massachusetts
May 30 Zoobizarre | Montreal
May 31 El Mocambo | Toronto
Jun 2 Empty Bottle | Chicago, Illinois
Jun 3 Record Bar | Kansas City, Montana

Jinners’ Fifth Anniversary Party w/ Cheeseburger + Neckbeard Telecaster + The Big Sleep | Knitting Factory | 12.03.2007

By show’s end, the Knitting Factory floor was covered in beer and hard candy and Silly String and confetti and paper mache. The stage was in worse shape. Five or six people were escorted out of the club. AKA just another Cheeseburger show.

Actually this was wilder than most. The audience was drunker than the band, with people leaping on stage, grabbing the mic from singer Joe Bradley, who also got his shirt ripped apart.

The reason for all the mayhem? The fifth anniversary of Jinners.com. In the pre-Brooklyn Vegan days, it was one of the best sources for upcoming shows and maybe the first blog I was really aware of. Jin’s also a band manager, and I’m pretty sure has about 20 other irons in the fire. She’s pretty hooked up. This meant a formidible lineup — Cheeseburger, Neckbeard Telecaster and The Big Sleep. (I didn’t see Coin Under Tongue.) She also brought party favors, consisting mostly of useful tchokies from her time at ASCAP — little notebooks for writing down setlists, flashlight pens for writing on them, and loads of earplugs.

By the middle of The Big Sleep‘s performance a lot of those goodie bags had been torn apart to get at those earplugs. With their stark floodlights, smoke machines and their psychedelic riff-heavy jams, The Big Sleep are a sensory assault. I know a lot of people dislike them intensely but I really dig it.


Neckbeard Telecaster are one of those bands I’ve been meaning to see for some time. All I knew was it was a side-project of Dirty on Purpose‘s Joe Jurewicz and that they were sorta country. What I didn’t know was that there were 15 of them and how awesome they are. "Joe’s got a policy that anyone who wants to be in the band is in the band," is what DoP bassist DJ told me, and the stage was proof. There were members of World Without Magic, the Jealous Girlfriends, Adam Franklin’s band, plus people I recognized from around Williamsburg: one of the baristas at Oslo, a guy who works at UVA wine, and like six more. All dudes. Beer flowed like water and whiskey flowed like beer. Drunken bearded dudes, yes, but a lot of talented musicians, sweet harmonies, good songs… the good vibes abounded.


Since half the audience was onstage for Neckbeard passing around bottle of Jack Daniels, the crowd was good and primed for the rock-n-roll debauchery that is Cheeseburger. I’ve said before that they’ve gone from being known for drunken buffoonery to a genuinely kickass rock band… but  Monday’s show seemed like a regression of sorts, although I think the guys were much less intoxicated than the audience. I spent so much time dodging thrown liquids, moshers, silly string, pinatas and the like that I don’t really remember much about the songs or the performance. But it was a whole lot of fun.

CMJ 2007 Day Two| Bella | Knitting Factory Old Office

BellaBest stage accoutrement ever: a tiny little table lamp with the Bella logo stitched into the shade that was perched on the guitar amp. I tried to take a picture of it (you can see it under the KF logo in this picture) but the white balance makes it to bright to really see it in all its darling glory.

Bella are cute like that. But not twee. The Canadaian-American trio mix the sweet and salty: boy-girl vocals full of "bah bahs" and harmonies, but also crunchy guitars and a healthy dose of attitude. Their debut, No One Will Know, is fairly slick but live, Bella are messier and loud with the three members switching instruments every few songs.quite a lot over the last couple months.

The Knitting Factory Old Office, where the Mint Records showcase was happening, is nobody’s idea of an ideal venue, but it felt more like a party than most gigs. CBC beverage cozies and decorated bags of candy were tossed into the crowd. You could tell most of the audience knew the bands. (They were likely the other bands on the bill.) I had to dash off to the Music Hall of Williamsburg after their set, so I didn’t get to see the other bands (maybe I would’ve stayed if they’d brought Novillero and the Bicycles back this year) but my second night of CMJ definitely started on a good note.

MP3: DBella – Give it a Night
(Buy it)

Bumpershine was there too, and pretty sure I saw the Modern Age, but no posts by her on it so cannot confirm or deny.